The Minnesota Department of Health has been investigating an E. coli outbreak that was the source of 17 confirmed illnesses and one death. MDOH suspects that at least 30 people were ill with E. coli infections, but that not all cases were confirmed through laboratory testing.

A report in the Pioneer Press noted that this latest E. coli outbreak caused the first E. coli-related death in Minnesota since 2002.

“We think primarily what happened was there were a number of illnesses associated with eating potato salad or another cold salad that became cross-contaminated with the ground beef that was used to make meatballs,” said Doug Schultz, a spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Health. Those preparing the food probably used the same utensils or cutting board for the potatoes as for the beef.

Health investigators were initially perplexed by the outbreak, Schultz said. People from the church were sick, but so was a group of people who did not attend the event.

The investigators eventually traced the contamination to E. coli that had been discovered during a routine federal inspection of a Nebraska meatpacker. A distributor bought beef from that plant and sold it to a Longville grocer, who in turn sold the beef to a local restaurant as well as the organizers of the church event. The victims who weren’t infected at the church all had eaten at the same restaurant.