Tales of Food Illness: E. Coli & Tuna Scrape

Last June, there were 2 food illness outbreaks that highlighted the complex nature of identifying and tracking food illness outbreaks nationwide. An outbreak relies heavily on each state’s foodborne illness surveillance program. Some states are better than others, but as cases grow, it’s important to understand there are probably many other unidentified cases not making it on the list, and food safety is at risk with contaminated product still being served.

Food Illness

E. Coli O145 Food Illness Outbreak Now at 15 Cases

Even though the number of cases is relatively low, what’s concerning is that the CDC and state epidemiologists have yet to identify the cause. The cases are spread across 6 states from California to Florida. Cases started emerging in April and as each one trickles in without a cause, more could keep coming. Sadly, this food illness outbreak claimed the life of a 21-month-old girl in Louisiana. Even though the cause is unknown, investigators still think it came from food.

More information:

CDC: Multistate Outbreak of Shiga Toxin-Producing Escherichia coli O145 Infections

Food Safety News: Illness in Louisiana Brings E. coli O145 Outbreak Count to 15

Salmonella Food Illness Outbreak Reaches 390 Cases

This food illness outbreak started in January 2012 and the likely cause was identified as a yellowfin tuna product known as Nakaochi tuna scrape. It’s imported from India by Moon Marine USA Corporation (MMI). Tuna scrape is tuna backmeat scraped from fish bones. It comes in ground form and is used in sushi and other fish products. It can be found in supermarkets and restaurants.

The CDC reported this week that this outbreak has a total of 390 persons infected with the strains of Salmonella Bareilly (376 persons) or Salmonella Nchanga (14 persons). The cases have come from 27 states and the District of Columbia. Of those sickened, 47 people have been hospitalized with no deaths so far. A recall was issued on this product on April 13, 2012, but at least 100 cases have been reported since that date, indicating the recall wasn’t very effective and more of the product could still be out there.

More information:

CDC: Multistate Outbreak of Salmonella Bareilly and Salmonella Nchanga Infections Associated with a Raw Scraped Ground Tuna Product

Food Safety News: Publisher’s Platform: When Is a Recall Not a Recall?

If you look at the case maps of each food illness outbreak, the outbreaks don’t seem to be confined to any one geographic area. There aren’t any reported cases in Utah, but knowing the deficiencies in the state’s surveillance program, I’m skeptical. If each state standardized foodborne illness surveillance nationwide, it would be easier to identify cases and give a better chance of finding the source. The quicker the source is found, the lower the number of infected people.

There is one last disturbing case that is looming. On May 26, 2012, 6-year-old Owen Carrignan died from complications from hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). HUS developed from an E. coli O157:H7 infection. So far, the E. coli strain Owen contracted hasn’t been linked to any other outbreaks and the cause is unknown. Could this be the start of another outbreak?

More information on Owen Carrignan’s case:

Mystery E. coli Infection Claims 6-Year-Old Mass. Boy

Originally published 6.25.12
Utah Food Safety Blog

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