Seven people have fallen ill with salmonella after eating at a Costco deli, according to health officials in King County, Washington. One person was hospitalized. The Costco Warehouse in question is located in Issaquah, a suburb east of Seattle. Here is what you need to know about the Salmonella Costco Outbreak.
All of the victims had shopped at the Costco before falling ill, and five had purchased ready-to-eat food from the deli there. Purchase information wasn’t available for one of the victims.
One of the people who fell ill was an employee at the Costco deli. In their statement, the health department said that there was no evidence that the employee was the source of the outbreak.
The sicknesses didn’t happen all at once. The King County Health Department says that they were instead stretched out over a period of a year. The first case showed up on August 28th, 2017, and the last was registered on July 13th, 2018.
Although the cases were spread out over a long period of time, investigators were able to determine that they were related to one another through genetic fingerprinting. Samples of salmonella taken from the seven victims were sent to the lab so that their genomes could be examined. Despite the fact that the cases were temporally disparate, the salmonella in each case was nearly genetically identical, indicating that it had come from a common source.
The Costco in question served several different kinds of ready-to-eat food at their deli. According to the health department, those foods included “rotisserie chicken, pork ribs, sandwiches, wraps, macaroni and cheese, poke, cilantro lime shrimp, and shrimp cocktail.” Investigators weren’t able to establish whether or not the salmonella was associated with a specific kind of food at the deli. Samples of raw chicken taken from the location tested negative for the presence of salmonella, as did swabs from different surfaces in the deli.
There were some indications that the Issaquah Costco wasn’t maintaining the cleanliness that you’d expect. On August 7th, health department officials dropped in on the deli to see how the shop was being run. They identified several problems that might facilitate cross-contamination of food or the inadvertent spread of bacteria. Proper hand-washing practices were found to be “inconsistent,” and procedures for the cleaning and sanitizing of surfaces that come into contact with foods were deemed to be improper.
To address these problems, health department officials spoke with Costco management, who agreed to several corrective actions. These included changing procedures for handling foods, refreshing employees on proper food safety practice, and better documentation for cleaning procedures.
The health department returned at the end of August to see if anything had changed. Again, they noted the same problems: inconsistent hand washing and improper cleaning of food-contact surfaces were noted, and management was called up once again to address the issue.
Once the health department had confirmed that the deli was the source of the outbreak, they returned to the deli once again. On September 19th, they instructed the business to stop serving foods until their food-handling procedures had been more thoroughly overhauled. They returned the next day to reiterate the message: employees needed to be re-trained with regards to proper food safety practices to prevent cross contamination, with several specific areas of improvement identified by investigators. Additionally, the deli needed to undergo a deep cleaning and disinfection before it could be reopened to the public.
The health department returned once more to verify that the deep clean had indeed happened and that the management was serious about taking steps to re-train employees on best practices for safe and sanitary food handling. Once they were satisfied with the deep clean and the progress that had been made towards retraining, the health department gave the green light for the deli to be reopened. Another follow up is planned for early October.
Salmonella affects more than a million Americans each year. The most common way that people contract the pathogen is through food. Typically, the symptoms are consistent with what you might expect from the flu: upset stomach, cramps, nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting are all common, as are headache, fever, and chills. Salmonellosis typically comes on in 12 to 72 after exposure to the bacteria. It usually lasts for 4 to 7 days.
For a healthy adult with a strong immune system, salmonella is annoying but poses little risk of serious illness. For the very young, the elderly, and the immunocompromised, however, the illness can prove to be serious or even deadly. More than 400 people die from Salmonella in the United States each year, according to the CDC. If you or someone you know has salmonellosis and is experiencing severe or bloody diarrhea, seeking medical attention is probably a good idea: although antibiotics aren’t needed in the majority of cases, they can sometimes make the difference between serious illness and death.
Ready-to-eat foods are often left to sit out for extended periods of time; that makes maintaining them at temperatures too high for pathogenic bacteria tricky, and creates a particular set of food safety challenges.
Examinations of ready-to-eat foods for salmonella in Greece, Catalonia, Hong Kong and elsewhere have found that the bacteria are a persistent problem. The pathogen wasn’t ubiquitous in those studies, but it did show up on a regular basis. In Greece, about 17% of the university cafeterias tested showed Salmonella; in Hong Kong, that figure was nearly 40%.
If you believe you have developed a Salmonella infection, 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 food from Costco, you can call 833.330.3663 for a free consultation or complete the form here.
By: Sean McNulty, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)