On Friday, August 22, 2008, the Director of the Tulsa EMSA/Metropolitan Medical Response system notified the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) and Tulsa Department of Health (TDH) of an unusual increase in patients being admitted to St. Francis Hospital in Tulsa with severe hemhorrhagic diarrhea. Patient interviews indicated that all had recently eaten at the Country Cottage restaurant, a buffet-style eatery, in Locust Grove, Mayes County, Oklahoma, and laboratory testing indicated all were suffering from E. coli O111:NM infection.
The Mayes County Health Department sanitarian conducted an unannounced inspection of Country Cottage on August 23, and within 48 hours of the first reported illness associated with Country Cottage, the restaurant was closed. Meanwhile, illnesses continued to be reported.
The OSDH conducted an extensive investigation at Country Cottage to determine the source of the E. coli O11:NM contamination, but were unable to locate the outbreak organism at the restaurant facility, either in food handlers or in the environment. The method by which E. coli O111:NM entered the restaurant and its food remains unclear.
Despite being unable to locate the source of the contamination, the investigation did conclude that this outbreak of E. coli O111:NM originated at Country Cottage between August 15 and August 24, 2008.
In its final E. coli outbreak investigation report, OSDH concluded that at least 341 people had become ill with E. coli O111:NM during the outbreak traced to Country Cottage Restaurant. Seventy people were hospitalized, 17 with hemolytic uremic syndrome, and one person died as a result of E. coli infection in what is believed to be the largest community outbreak of diarrheal illness and HUS attributable to E. coli O111:NM ever reported.
Marler Clark represented over a dozen clients in E. coli claims against Country Cottage.