Three weeks after the largest E. coli outbreak in Marion County history, the investigation focuses on Wendy’s ground beef, said Dr. Paul Cieslak of the Oregon Health Division.
The connection was made after a second Wendy’s restaurant in Tualatin was linked to the outbreak when an adult female was confirmed Sept. 2 as an E. coli victim, Cieslak said.
The DNA of the E. coli matched that of the Salem outbreak, confirming a common contamination source.
No other outbreaks have been uncovered, Cieslak said, and the total number of confirmed cases remained at 19. Nineteen others are likely cases but were not tested in time to catch evidence of E. coli. There are 49 suspected cases without bloody diarrhea.
Investigators initially considered lettuce as a source of contamination. But the Tualatin restaurant gets its produce from a different supplier, making that connection improbable, he said.
The investigation then shifted to the meat, which went to both restaurants from a common supplier, Cieslak said.
“We can’t think of anything else that might explain it satisfactorily,” Cieslak said.
He said tests have not confirmed that ground beef was the source of contamination.
The lettuce link can be explained by cross contamination, which may have occurred because of improper food handling.
From interviews with Wendy’s employees, officials determined that a few workers had washed lettuce in a sink that had not been sanitized and previously contained utensils that had touched raw meat, said Joe Fowler of the Marion County Health Department.
Since the restaurant closed Aug 25., it has been cleaned and workers have been retrained on proper food handling procedures. The Salem restaurant reopened Sept. 2.
A full report of the E. coli outbreak, which affected diners at the Wendy’s restaurant on Commercial Street SE from Aug. 13 to 18, is expected soon.
Eight families that suffered from E. coli have consulted with Marler and Clark, a Seattle law firm that won settlements for E. coli victims following an outbreak at Jack in the Box a few years ago.
One lawsuit on behalf of Robert Pascal of Salem was filed a week ago, said Bill Marler, the attorney handling the case.
One family was hit twice when the two sons, a 4-year-old and a 23-month-old, became sick from E. coli.
The 4-year-old was released last week from Oregon Health Sciences University Hospital, and the 23-month-old remained in fair condition Saturday night, a nursing supervisor said.
Both had been on dialysis, after which patients can either recover or require transplants, depending on the severity of the condition, a nurse said.