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Cross contamination caused outbreak

MILWAUKEE, Aug. 25 – Cross contamination caused a food poisoning outbreak that killed one child and sickened more than 60 people last month, Milwaukee health officials say. Commissioner of Health Seth Foldy, following up on a news release issued Thursday, told reporters Friday that contaminated beef was prepared in the same place as foods destined for the salad bar at two area Sizzler restaurants.

Officials believe the E. coli came from uncooked beef shipped from an Excel Corp. meat plant in Fort Morgan, Colo.

Foldy said laboratory tests as well as interviews with restaurant staff show there was an opportunity for cross-contamination to occur from uncooked meat to products served on the buffet and salad bars at a Layton Avenue Sizzler as well as one in Wauwatosa. Both restaurants remain closed.

Foldy said it’s important that restaurants with salad bars prepare the buffet items in a separate area from where meat is handled, and the department will recommend other restaurants with salad bars change their procedures.

Nine lawsuits have been filed in connection with the outbreak. One was amended Thursday to include Excel as a defendant.


A similar situation is documented in a new study of 1993 cases in Washington and Oregon reported this month in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

The study found that infection was not due to beef consumption at any of the four restaurants but was linked with salad bar items.

The team of researchers concluded that cross-contamination in the kitchens likely caused the outbreaks, and that meat can be a source of infection “even if it is later cooked properly, underscoring the need for meticulous food handling at all stages of preparation.”

E. coli is a bacteria usually found in the intestines or manure of cattle. People who ingest it can suffer severe cramps, bloody diarrhea and, in extreme cases, kidney failure.

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