From a cluster of cases reported by the City of Milwaukee Health Department, 64 confirmed cases of E. coli O157:H7 were linked to area Sizzler restaurants – 62 in Layton and 2 in Mayfair. Of those infected, 4 people developed hemolytic uremic syndrome and 1 person died. In addition, there were reports of 551 probable cases and 122 possible cases of infection.
Samples from both restaurants were matched to the strain of E. coli found in patients, notably from the chunky taco meat and sirloin tri-tips. The meat was manufactured by the Excel Corporation, but were remanufactured by Sizzler chefs at individual franchise restaurants as part of their food preparation.
Although cross-contamination events are difficult to confirm, the State Department of Health speculates that raw watermelon may have been the vehicle for infection. The watermelon was contaminated when cut with the same tools as the infected raw sirloin tri-tip. Whereas the tri-tip may have been cooked according to health guidelines, the watermelon remained infected.
Sizzler has had several other incidents of E. coli outbreak in its history, all with similar examples of cross-contamination, where raw meats and multiple salad bar items were prepared in close proximity to each other.
Since the outbreaks, Sizzler has started to utilize pre-cut meats rather than prepare them in their kitchens. However, this does not necessarily mean that measures to eliminate cross-contamination have been implemented.