Two separate Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) outbreaks have occurred recently in the Pacific Northwest connected with two Seattle restaurants, The Matador and Memo’s Mexican Food Restaurant. It is unclear at this time if the outbreak was caused by improper food handling, or if high-risk ingredients that are often served raw, such as herbs and sprouts, may have arrived at the restaurant already contaminated.
Image: Ascel Bio’s E. coli Risk NowCast shows the state of Washington to be at moderate risk of E. coli growth. The model captures the ideal climactic conditions for E. coli growth, but does not include the risk of improper storage temperatures and handling.
The first outbreak began with four cases who ate at the Matador on August 14th, and as of September 15th, seven people who ate at Matador restaurant became infected with the same strain of STEC. Three additional people outside of King County were found to be infected with the same strain, but did not report having eaten at the restaurant, suggesting a common source. One person developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a dangerous kidney condition, and is in recovery.
Cases of the same strain who are unconnected to the restaurant have appeared in the region, which may suggest an outside source in common. However, the restaurant has a history of citations for improper food handling, including 6 citations for failure to store food at the appropriate temperature.
Image: Ascel Bio STEC Forecast for the United States. Incidence of STEC infections is forecast to peak between June and November 2016; a Warning was issued on 09-04 due to unusual case counts. Predictions are based on historical data and are updated weekly.
The outbreak at Memo’s Mexican Food Restaurant began shortly after the Matador outbreak with two cases who ate there on August 18th and August 24th. Laboratory tests confirmed that the strain of STEC causing these infections was genetically distinct from the one that caused the Matador outbreak just a few days earlier. King County’s Public Health Department’s field investigation revealed improper food handling practices at Memo’s that may have contributed to the outbreak, including improper cooling and storage of food, reheating of potentially hazardous food, and practices that could lead to cross-contamination.
The Seattle/King County area is at moderate risk according to Ascel Bio’s STEC NowCast. These outbreaks underline the importance of proper food handling practices and vigilant public health surveillance for STEC infections.
Seek medical attention and contact public health authorities if you experience symptoms of STEC infection such as diarrhea, especially bloody diarrhea, stomach cramps and fever. Symptoms of the STEC infection typically appear 1 to 8 days after exposure.
To prevent acquiring STEC infection, avoid eating high-risk foods such as undercooked meats, raw sprouts and unpasteurized dairy products and practice clean food handling. Detailed food safety information can be found here.