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King County Public Health Recently Issued Information on an E. coli Outbreak from PCC Guacamole. At Least Five Cases So Far!

Posted in E. coli,Outbreaks & Recalls on March 25, 2024

King County Public Health recently issued a foodborne illness outbreak alert for store-made guacamole from PCC. This E. coli outbreak from PCC guacamole has been linked to 5 cases so far, with one serious enough to require hospitalization.

This outbreak is associated with the West Seattle Co-op location of PCC Community Markets (formerly Puget Consumers Co-op and later PCC Natural Markets). One of 15 stores in the network.

What do we know so far?

Here’s What We Know

According to the King County Public Health outbreak alert, There have been 5 cases of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O157:H7 linked to PCC Community Markets – West Seattle Co-op at 2749 California Ave SW in Seattle, Washington. There has been one linked hospitalization and no deaths associated with this E. coli outbreak from PCC guacamole so far.

While the investigation is still in progress, some information has become available.

King County Public Health Received Reports of Five Cases of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O157: H7

Recently, King County Public Health received reports of five cases of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) O157:H7. None of the cases involved employees of PCC Community Markets – West Seattle Co-op.

All cases reported illnesses beginning between February 14, 2024 and February 28, 2024, with symptoms consistent with STEC infection (diarrhea, stomach cramping, nausea, and vomiting). This prompted an investigation.

Environmental Health Investigators paid the location a visit on March 15, 2024. These investigators provided a health and safety refresher; reviewing with restaurant staff the requirement for staff with symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea to abstain from work for at least 24 hours. Investigators also provided education about preventing the spread of STEC. Things like preventing cross-contamination, preventing bare hand contact with ready-to-eat foods, and proper handwashing protocols.

Genetic Testing Revealed At least Three Cases Were Linked

Of the five people with symptoms, four were positive for STEC O157: H1. One person did not have testing performed, so data was unavailable.

A type of testing known as genetic fingerprinting, performed by Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS) at the Washington State Public Health Laboratory, revealed that three of the four people tested were infected with the same strain of STEC. This tells investigators that these people likely became sick from the same source.

Patient Interviews Pointed to Store-Made Guacamole

Patient interviews and information collected point to one common source.

Store-made guacamole.

Patients reported consuming store-made guacamole from the West Seattle Co-op location of PCC Community Markets on February 10, 2024.

Product Unavailable to Confirm E. coli Outbreak from PCC Guacamole

Unfortunately, King County Public Health is unable to confirm the store-made guacamole is the source of the STEC outbreak. No product was available to sample to confirm these findings.

However, Public Health says, “we think this is the mostly likely source of illness.”

King County Public Health also does not have enough information to determine how the guacamole may have been contaminated. Was it an ingredient? Was it food handling? Or was it temperature control.

At this time, this information is unavailable.

E. coli Outbreak from PCC Guacamole Appears to Be Over, But Health Officials May Still Want Information

While the E. coli outbreak from PCC guacamole may be over due to suspected product expiration, health officials may still want information. If you became sick from eating foods obtained from PCC West Seattle, your information may be able to narrow down the source of the outbreak.

Could it have been the cilantro? Onion? Tomato? Spices? Lime? Avocado?

Those items were also likely sourced from the co-op and may have been a contributing factor.

Why is E. coli So Scary?

Escherichia coli, more commonly known as E. coli, is a potentially deadly bacteria that can result in kidney failure and long-term complications. Particularly strains like the E. coli outbreak in PCC guacamole.

Common symptoms of STEC infection include:

  • Diarrhea (often bloody)
  • Severe stomach cramps
  • Vomiting

In some cases, those sick with STEC infection may also experience a fever less than 101 °F.

While most people begin feeling symptoms around 3 to 4 days after consuming contaminated food or drink and recover on their own within a week without medical help, others may not be so lucky.

Illness can vary from mild to severe or life-threatening. Such is the case when complications develop as the infection leaves the digestive system and enters other parts of the body. One of these complications is known as Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome, or HUS.

Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS)

Hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) is a type of kidney failure that can develop in about 5 to 10 percent of those diagnosed with STEC infections.

HUS symptoms include:

  • Decreased frequency of urination
  • Feeling very tired
  • Loss of pink color in cheeks and inside the lower eyelids

These symptoms often begin around 7 days after initial STEC symptoms begin, just as the person begins to feel a bit better.

Those with HUS must be hospitalized to monitor kidney function and other complications, and the kidneys may stop working and other serious health problems may occur.

Most people with HUS will recover within a few weeks. However, some will suffer permanent damage or even die.

Could Avocados Be to Blame?

Any of the ingredients used to make the store-made guacamole may have been the culprit. Cilantro was recently in the news for a Cyclospora outbreak. Onions have been recalled for Salmonella. All the ingredients in store-made guacamole are vulnerable to STEC contamination.

But could it be the star of the dish? Could avocados be to blame?

Foods where the skin or peel of the item are not consumed tend to be overlooked when it comes to washing produce. Unfortunately, when those items are cut, like the avocado, the knife can drag harmful pathogens through the fruit from the surface.

FDA Study Analyzes Avocado Samples

A microbiological surveillance sampling study conducted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) revealed alarming statistics about the prevalence of foodborne pathogens found on the skin of avocados. Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes were among the top bad bugs observed, however, avocado is not immune to STEC.

The study was designed so that sampling activities would account for about 1% of the avocado commodities in the marketplace – a good indicator of what is in circulation around the country. Both domestic and foreign avocados were selective, with a heavier focus on imported avocados. Much of the U.S. consumption of avocados comes from abroad.

Findings indicated that 0.74 percent of samples contained Salmonella and 17.73 percent of samples contained Listeria monocytogenes.

That is a rather high rate of Listeria contamination.

What Can You Do to Reduce Your Risk? recommends all consumers take steps to reduce their risk of foodborne illness. One simple step that could make a huge difference is to wash all produce under running water before eating, cutting, or cooking.

According to the site, “Even if you plan to cut the rind or peel off the produce before eating, it is still important to wash it first so dirt and bacteria aren’t transferred from the knife to the fruit.” Firm produce, like avocado, can also benefit from scrubbing with a clean produce brush.

Have You Become Sick by the E. coli Outbreak from PCC Guacamole?

If you have become sick from consuming PCC guacamole or another food from the establishment, reporting your illness can help the traceback investigation. Your interview can help determine the source and potentially prevent future illnesses.

If you have been impacted by this outbreak, you may also benefit from an E. coli Lawyer. An experienced E. coli lawyer, like The Lange Law Firm, PLLC can help you navigate the legal process and determine if you have a case.

Contact The Lange Law Firm, PLLC today by phone at (833) 330-3663 or click here for more information.

By: Heather Van Tassell (contributing writer, non-lawyer)