In August of 2000, over 200 people became ill with Salmonella infections after eating food from a San Antonio Taco Company franchise located in Nashville, Tennessee.
After it became aware of the outbreak, the Metropolitan Health Department (MHD) of Nashville conducted an investigation into the outbreak, including an environmental health inspection of the restaurant and an epidemiologic investigation. During the inspection on August 10, MHD noted several sources of possible cross-contamination, including:
- Cutting boards used to slice cooked meats sat on a table that also held pans of raw chicken and beef.
- Cases of whole avocados, held in boxes that showed obvious signs of liquid damage, were stored under pans of raw meat.
In the process of the epidemiologic investigation, MDH was notified that two San Antonio Taco Company employees tested positive for Salmonella newport, the same strain that had been isolated from ill restaurant patrons. The pulsed field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) testing for one of the employees showed an indistinguishable DNA match with the results of 30 isolates from stool samples submitted by case-patients for testing. In addition, leftover salsa obtained from one of the ill patrons tested positive for Salmonella newport.
MDH concluded that the most likely possible sources for the food contamination were:
- Employees contaminating the food by using improper hand-washing methods.
- Employee cross-contaminating foods via equipment and/or utensils that had not been cleaned and sanitized properly.
Marler Clark represented several victims of the outbreak in claims against the restaurant. The claims were resolved in early 2002.