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Salmonella Outbreak in King County, Washington, and No One Can Find the Source

Posted in Our Blog on August 8, 2023

King County Public Health has been investigating a Salmonella Berta infection outbreak that has linked at least 6 people with the same strain of bacteria over the past month. Yet no one can find the source.


The Outbreak


So far 6 people from 6 different households with ages ranging from children to adolescents to adults have fallen ill with the same strain of Salmonella Berta.

The Washington State Public Health Laboratory analyzed the samples for this genetic information.


The age ranges from 2 years to 65 years of age and at least 2 have experienced illness so severe that hospitalization was necessary.


All reported symptoms consistent with salmonellosis, the illness associated with Salmonella infection. Symptoms included: nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, bloody stools, fever, and chills.


According to patient interviews, illness onset ranged from April 12, 2023 to June 5, 2023 in these 6 individuals. The overlapping information that links these 6 cases is the genetic data of their bacterial infection samples.


Whole Genome Sequencing Indicates Common Source

When someone falls ill with a bacteria like Salmonella Berta, their sample is uploaded to a database of other clinical bacterial samples. The data used in the database involves whole genome sequencing, a process known as genetic fingerprinting.


Genetic Fingerprinting

While we often think of fingerprints in terms of individuals – no two are alike; when it comes to bacterial identification, it is more like a relative.


Bacteria replicate the same genetic information over and over, with very little variation. For that reason, we can assign different strains a particular fingerprint.


When the genetic information from one sample matches another in the database, investigators start to think there is likely a common source.


Data is Used to Identify a Source

This data is used to pinpoint a source of infection. Patient interviews provide a starting point to see what people have eaten, where they have eaten, where they got it from, and where they have been. If there is overlapping information between outbreak patients, investigators can start looking at the potential sources.


Samples can be screened for the presence of bacteria and then analyzed for genetic information to compare to sick patient samples. If there is a match or a close match, the potential source of the outbreak can be determined and recall or mitigating activities can begin in order to slow or stop the ongoing outbreak.


Potential Sources


No source has been narrowed down at this time, but most of those who were interviewed reported eating pork and seafood. The pork was not specific to particular cuts of pork, but they all indicated the pork was cooked at home. The seafood indicated was fish and crab.


Environmental Health Investigators began the traceback investigation of the pork and seafood meat products on June 21, 2023. They collected invoices from the different places where the families indicated getting their food and even conducted inspections.


No common source or location has been identified.


The investigation is ongoing.




Salmonella is a type of bacteria that can be found in a variety of foods, including sprouts and other vegetables, eggs, chicken, pork, fruits, and even in processed foods. According to the Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC), “contaminated foods usually look and smell normal.” Animals can also be a source of Salmonella bacteria. Reptiles, chickens, and other farm animals may carry Salmonella bacteria. Additionally, Salmonella bacteria can be transmitted from person to person. A sick person may transfer contaminated feces to another person if proper handwashing procedures are not observed.



The CDC estimates around 1.35 million people fall ill of Salmonella bacteria infection in the United States each year. Salmonella is responsible for around 26,500 hospitalizations and 420 related deaths each year. Food is the most common source of these illnesses.



General symptoms include diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps. Additionally, symptoms may involve nausea, vomiting, and headaches.


Symptoms can begin in as little as 6 hours to around 6 days after exposure and can last around 4 to 7 days depending on the person and the extent of the infection.


Most people recover on their own without medical intervention. In fact, this is the reason that many Salmonella infection cases go unreported. However, sometimes illness is so severe that antibiotics or even hospitalization is necessary to recover from illness.


When to Seek Medical Attention

There is a threshold between a person being able to ride out the illness on their own and seeking medical attention. According to the CDC, high fever, persistent diarrhea, bloody stools, and dehydration are the key attributes.


  • Diarrhea AND fever higher than 102 °F
  • Diarrhea for MORE THAN 3 days that is not improving
  • Bloody stool
  • Prolonged vomiting that prevents you from keeping liquids down
  • Signs of dehydration (making very little urine, dry mouth and throat, dizziness when standing up)


What To Do If Infected


If you are infected with Salmonella linked to an outbreak, there are a few important things to think about.


Make a List

Make a list of the foods and drinks that you have consumed in the time leading up to falling ill. Be as specific as possible, including brands and locations of purchase. This will help the traceback information potentially identify a source of the infection.


Do this as soon as possible. Time is the enemy of memory. Having this information written down as soon as possible will ensure a more complete record of food items.


Retain Food Packaging and Receipts

If you have not already thrown it out, retain food packaging and receipts associated with places you have eaten or purchased food. Specific brands and lot numbers can assist in the outbreak investigation, helping to narrow down the source and slow the outbreak from affecting others.


Reach out to a Food Poisoning Lawyer

Medical bills, lost wages, and the suffering of illness are a significant burden to those who are involved in a foodborne outbreak. A trusted Salmonella lawyer can help you navigate the process and put yourself and your family at ease that you will be taken care of.


The experienced Salmonella lawyers at The Lange Law Firm, PLLC can help you through this unfortunate experience. Call (833)330-3669 or email here for your free consultation.