On April 21, 2005, the Multnomah County Health Department (MCHD) received a report that members of two families that had dined together at the Gresham, Oregon, Olive Garden were ill with food poisoning. In addition to those family members who had eaten at the restaurant, members who had eaten leftovers brought home had also become ill.
On April 25, MCHD received a second report of illness from an Olive Garden patron and began a full outbreak investigation, including an environmental health investigation at the restaurant. A cohort study was also conducted, with MCHD reaching the determination that a “case” was an individual who had become ill with diarrhea between 6 and 96 hours after eating at the Olive Garden. Eighteen people contacted met the case definition.
Stool specimens from ill individuals, including one Olive Garden staff member, were submitted to the MCHD lab, the Oregon State Public Health Lab, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lab for testing. Four of five specimens came back positive for E. coli ETEC serogroup O169:H41.
MCHD outbreak investigators concluded:
ETEC was the cause of the point source outbreak examined here. No one food was strongly implicated in this outbreak that affected at least 18 people. As in most situations where no one food item is implicated, the most common suspicion is contamination of a food by a food handler that had contact with an array of menu items. As a number of different servers had ill persons among the parties they served, the most likely sort of food handler in this case would have been a member of the kitchen staff. If one of the kitchen staff were the source of ETEC, they most likely would have handled either appetizers and some sauces or the breadsticks.
Marler Clark represented two families with members who became ill after eating at the Gresham Olive Garden in claims against the restaurant. The claims were resolved in late 2005.