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Salmonella Carnitas Outbreak in Chicago

Posted in Our Blog,Outbreaks & Recalls,Salmonella on March 8, 2019

Chicago is not my hometown, but my adopted one. I’ve come to really love this city in all its intricacies and quirks and what makes it so lovable. So when someone informs me that there is a foodborne illness afloat, I am of course concerned. Especially when it comes to a nefarious bacterium named salmonella.

When I first began writing for this website, salmonella sounded like some kind of exotic and perhaps delicious seafood dish. However, it most definitely is not. Salmonella is the leading cause of food poisoning in the United States as well as in other countries.

In the Archer Heights neighborhood of Chicago, six individuals have fallen ill with salmonella symptoms after they ate a grocery store last month. The grocery store in question is the Supermercado Rivera at 4334 W. 51st Street, according to the Chicago Department of Public Health. Individuals who purchased and ate food that they purchased from the store’s kitchen counter between February 23 and February 24 ate carnitas or other foods. These people may have been exposed to the salmonella bacteria and others are advised by the Chicago Health Department to not eat such products, even if it was frozen.

The health department has already inspected the premises and outlined cleaning and food handling practices to further halt the spread of salmonella. In a statement, the Chicago Health Department added, “implicated food items were no longer available at the store as of March 1, 2019, and at this point there is no evidence that food made after this date was contaminated.”

What makes this particular outbreak of salmonella illness is the proactive nature surrounding the outbreak. Almost immediately, the Chicago Public Health Department responded not only reactively, but proactively to the outbreak. Although no substantive data was currently available, the department found the outbreak concerning enough to issue warrants of potential symptoms of salmonella to the general public. To this end, the department urged people who may have eaten or purchased potentially contaminated food from this establishment to contact the Chicago Department of Public Health by calling 312-746-SICK (7425) or emailing outbreak@cityofchicago.rog to file a suspected foodborne illness complaint.

I Had to Ask, But What Are Carnitas?

I’ve taken a lot of questions and scathing about my dislike for Mexican cuisine, but that is because I cannot handle anything the least bit spicy. Truly, I would love to be able to consume and happily devour many Mexican and other authentic Spanish dishes, but my digestive system has decided otherwise. So, I didn’t know what the term carnitas meant. Since the definition is vital to understanding the context of the outbreak, it means a “braised or roasted pork served shredded in small pieces, often as a filling in tacos, burritos, etc.”

So, that could mean literally, anything meat-related chopped or shredded into tiny, itsy-bitsy pieces. Think of how many of your favorite taco shops or Mexican restaurants serve dishes containing shredded meat.

So, how does salmonella infiltrate our food, especially the beloved American obsession with Mexican cuisine?

Where Does Salmonella Originate?

Salmonella is a particular bacterium responsible for one of the most common gastro illnesses in the entire modern world, including the United States. It results in gastrointestinal illnesses known as salmonellosis, attributable to an American veterinary scientist named Daniel E. Salmon, who discovered the first known strain of salmonella.

Salmonella is quite common. It is a bacterium that lives in both animal and human intestines and is shed through fecal product .Humans can become infected through contaminated water or food products. It is one of the most common sources of foodborne illnesses because it can be found almost everywhere, and from many, many sources, including various meat and meat by products.

Some sources include the following:

Raw meat, poultry and seafood. Feces may get onto raw meat and poultry during the butchering process. Seafood may be contaminated if harvested from contaminated water.

Raw eggs. While an egg’s shell may seem to be a perfect barrier to contamination, some infected chickens produce eggs that contain salmonella before the shell is even formed. Raw eggs are used in homemade versions of mayonnaise and hollandaise sauce.

Fruits and vegetables. Some fresh produce, particularly imported varieties, may be hydrated in the field or washed during processing with water contaminated with salmonella. Contamination also can occur in the kitchen, when juices from raw meat and poultry come into contact with uncooked foods, such as salads.

Symptoms of Salmonella Infection

Sometimes there are no symptoms associated with a salmonella infection; however the most common symptoms are diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps occurring within eight to seventy two hours, and healthy individuals recover completely within a few days. Sometimes, though, the dehydration caused by the illness requires prompt medical attention. The risk of getting salmonella infection is higher if you travel to countries with poor sanitation.

Steps to Preventing a Salmonella Infection

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends the following four steps to help keep people safe from foodborne illnesses at home:

  • Clean, separate, cook, and chill. Washing hands and surfaces often and rinsing fresh fruits and vegetables under running water does help. Use separate cutting boards for different types of food to prevent cross-contamination from one food to another.
  • Place foods that are more prone to harbor the bacteria (see above list), in separate drawers or spaces in the refrigerator.
  • Cook foods to the correct, recommended temperatures as well. This is a very critical step because cooking food to the right temperature is the only way to ensure that the bacteria are killed. Use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature. (Recommended temperatures are to cook ground beef to 160 degrees, poultry to 165 degrees, and pork to 160 degrees.
  • Refrigerate food promptly. Your refrigerator should reflect a temperature below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Our Salmonella Lawyer is Here to Help You

If you believe you have developed a Salmonella infection from carnitas and other foods that were purchased on Feb. 23 and 24 at the Supermercado Rivera, we want you to know that a Salmonella Lawyer at the Lange Law Firm, PLLC is currently investigating this matter and offering free legal consultations. Our lawyer, Jory Lange became a lawyer to help make our communities and families safer.

If you or a loved one have become ill with Salmonella after eating ground beef products, you can call 833.330.3663 for a free consultation or complete the form here.

By: Kerry Bazany, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)