Multiple Salmonella outbreaks have occurred in the United States this month. There have been over 500 confirmed cases reported in over 33 states linked to tainted Mexican cucumbers. There was a separate outbreak in Minnesota tied to the fast food chain, Chipotle, with over 60 reported cases linked to contaminated tomatoes. Additionally, in our nation’s capital, there are at least 60 possible cases of food poisoning attributable to Salmonella infections from one local restaurant alone. The Washington, D.C. outbreak has yet to be linked to any of the other Salmonella outbreaks nationwide.
Salmonella is the number one cause of foodborne illness in the United States. The bacteria affect over 1 million Americans annually. People infected with Salmonella may experience symptoms of diarrhea, fever, nausea, vomiting, and stomach pain after ingesting contaminated food. The elderly, infants, and immunocompromised individuals are the most at risk for developing severe symptoms from the infection.
The total costs of these outbreaks are difficult to calculate. At least 3 deaths have been attributed to the Mexican cucumbers tainted with the Salmonella enterica serotype, Poona. Andrew & Williamson, a Californian produce distributor, enacted a voluntarily major recall of imported cucumbers associated with the S. enterica Poona outbreak. The Chipotle outbreak, attributed to the S. enterica serotype Newport, caused the chain to switch produce suppliers. Moreover, multiple lawsuits have been filed as a result of the cucumber and D.C. Salmonella outbreaks, against specifically, Andrew & Williamson and the Fig & Olive restaurant chain. This month, the owner of a Georgia peanut processing plant, PCA, will be sentenced after being convicted of criminal charges for his role in a deadly Salmonella outbreak in 2007.
The keys to combating these Salmonella outbreaks are twofold. The first is widespread bio-surveillance of the America food production and distribution chain system in order to facilitate early detection and removal of contaminated products. Second, rapid and precise diagnosis to the subspecies and/or strain level is needed in order to quickly mobilize public health forces to contain outbreaks in their early stages.