KFC E. coli Outbreak Lawsuit - Ohio (1999)

In late July of 1999, Ohio public health officials began receiving reports that patients at local hospitals were suffering from E. coli O157:H7 infections. By August 2, 1999, fifteen cases had been confirmed, and through investigative interviews the Ohio Department of Health learned that eleven of those fifteen people had eaten foods purchased from KFC restaurants in southwestern Ohio counties in the week before becoming ill.

Experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) joined the epidemiologic investigation, and isolates were requested from all culture-confirmed cases so that pulse-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) analysis, or “genetic fingerprinting” could be performed at the Ohio Department of Health Laboratory. Twelve culture-confirmed cases were found to have identical PFGE patterns in their E. coli O157:H7 isolates. This PFGE pattern was recognized as the outbreak strain.

Subsequent case-control studies conducted by public health investigators identified KFC coleslaw as the source of the E. coli outbreak. When sanitarians visited the implicated KFC restaurants, they found a number of deficiencies in the preparation of the coleslaw that could have contributed to the outbreak. Three particular food-handling errors were noted as possible explanations for the E. coli contamination in the coleslaw: inclusion of outer cabbage leaves, insufficient washing of cabbage, and the use of unpeeled carrots in the coleslaw.

Marler Clark represented a woman who became ill with an E. coli infection and hemolytic uremic syndrome after eating foods purchased from a Cincinnati KFC restaurant. She was hospitalized for nearly a month with acute renal failure and other life-threatening complications and nearly died twice. As a result of her E. coli O157:H7 infection, the woman suffered permanent and irreversible injury to her kidneys, pancreas, heart, lungs, and brain. Her claim was resolved in 2001.

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