On July 24, 2000, staff at Children’s Hospital notified the City of Milwaukee Health Department that they were treating a number of children with E. coli O157:H7 infections. Eventually, sixty-four confirmed cases were discovered – 62 linked to the Layton, Wisconsin, Sizzler and two linked to the Mayfair, Wisconsin, Sizzler. Dozens of these individuals were hospitalized; four developed HUS and one child died. In addition to the confirmed cases, the State noted that there were reports of 551 probable cases, and another 122 possible cases.
Sixty-two of the laboratory-confirmed cases were found to be genetically indistinguishable, proving that all of the cases had a common source. Moreover, an identical strain of E. coli O157:H7 was isolated from samples of raw chunky taco meat and sirloin tri-tips found at the Layton restaurant. This meat was manufactured by the Excel Corporation, and then remanufactured at the local Sizzler franchisee according to procedures defined by Sizzler USA.
The Wisconsin Department of Health concluded that the outbreak was caused when employees cross-contaminated fresh watermelon with raw meat products, “and the raw sirloin tri-tip were the source of the E. coli O157:H7 organism in this outbreak.”
The Department of Health further concluded that:
The layout of the facility and the practices of personnel may have contributed to this outbreak. The arrangement of a meat processing area (the grinding area) in close proximity to ready-to-eat food preparation areas increased the likelihood of cross-contamination….
Marler Clark represented 18 clients in claims against Sizzler and Excel. The firm resolved the Sizzler E. coli outbreak cases in 2005, after several years of complex litigation and appeals.