Costco Chicken Salad E. coli Outbreak Lawsuits - Mulistate (2015)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), and public health officials in several states investigated an outbreak of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli O157:H7 (STEC O157:H7) infections. Using the PulseNet system to identify outbreak associated cases, investigators identified 19 people infected with the outbreak strain of E. coli O157:H7 identified as PulseNet strain EXHX01.0225/EXHA26.0621. The outbreak was assigned CDC Cluster Code 1511MTEXH-1.  

The majority of cases were reported from the western United States. The number of ill persons reported from each state was as follows California (1), Colorado (4), Missouri (1), Montana (6), Utah (5), Virginia (1) and Washington (1). Among people for whom information was available, illnesses started on date ranging from October 6, 2015 to November 3, 2015.  Ill people ranged in age from 5 years to 84, with a median age of 18. Fifty-seven percent of ill people were female. Five (29%) people were hospitalized, and two people developed hemolytic uremic syndrome. No deaths were reported.  

The epidemiologic evidence collected during this investigation suggested that rotisserie chicken salad made and sold in Costco stores was the likely source of this outbreak. State and local public health officials interviewed ill people to obtain information about foods they might have eaten and other exposures in the week before their illness started. Fourteen (88%) of 16 people purchased or ate rotisserie chicken salad from Costco. On November 20, 2015, Costco reported to public health officials that the company had removed all remaining rotisserie chicken salad from all stores in the United States.     

The Montana Public Health Laboratory tested a sample of celery and onion diced blend produced by Taylor Farms Pacific, Inc. and collected from a Costco store in Montana. Preliminary results indicated the presence of E. coli O157:H7. This product was used to make the Costco rotisserie chicken salad eaten by ill people in this outbreak. On November 26, 2015, Taylor Farms Pacific, Inc. voluntarily recalled the celery and onion diced blend and many other products containing celery because they might be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.  Additional laboratory testing was conducted by the FDA Pacific Regional Laboratory was unable to confirm the presence of E. coli O157:H7 in the sample of celery and onion diced blend tested by the Montana Public Health Laboratory.  

The FDA conducted a traceback investigation of the FDA regulated ingredients used in the chicken salad to try to determine which ingredient was linked to illness. However, the traceback investigation did not identify a common source of contamination.

Marler Clark represented 5 individuals affected by the outbreak, achieving settlements covering medical expenses, wage loss, and pain and suffering.