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Skipped Dip Was Key to Food Poisoning Mystery

Wednesday, February 16, 2000



Picking up a container of Mexican-style dip for the baby shower that Jan Wyckoff and her friends had been planning for weeks seemed like a good idea at the time. So Wyckoff, a 43-year-old Kent woman, slipped on down to the local Costco store and bought a container of dip to share with her friends. The decision of one of the guests to forgo the dip was fortuitous. It was the key to solving the mystery of what made hundreds of people sick in Washington, Oregon, California and several other Western states.

Wyckoff and her friends didn't know it at the time of the Jan. 15 party, but the dip -- produced by Senor Felix Gourmet Mexican Foods of Baldwin Park, Calif. -- was contaminated with the Shigella bacteria. The dip is believed to have made several hundred people ill.

King County health officials say there have been 77 laboratory confirmed cases and 33 suspected cases here. Two days after the baby shower, Wyckoff was sick as a dog, trying to get through the day at DHL Worldwide Express, where she works as a courier. She didn't make it to the end of her shift. Wyckoff went home, where she soon heard from one of the other women who attended the baby shower. "She said she had just gotten home from the hospital emergency room and she was sick, too," Wyckoff said.

The two women talked about whether it might have been something they ate at the party. But they didn't decide that was the case until the next day when they learned the three others who ate the dip were also sick and the only one who didn't had not become ill. Wyckoff said the first thing she did after getting out of bed was call the King County Department of Public Health to warn them about the dip. Then she called Costco. Those phone calls touched off a massive recall of Senor Felix products along the West Coast.

The federal Food and Drug Administration quickly issued a warning to consumers not to buy any five-layer dip sold under the following brand names: Senor Felix's Five-Layer Party Dip, Delicioso 5-Layer Dip, Trader Joe's Five-Layer Fiesta Dip or The Carryout Cafe Mexican Fiesta Party Dip 5 Layer. The recall applied to products prepared without preservatives with an expiration date of Feb. 9 or earlier and to products prepared with preservatives with an expiration date of March 4 or earlier, health officials in California said. Senor Felix officials cooperated. "We're doing everything we can to ensure that this doesn't happen again," Stan Wetch, company president said. Since becoming ill, Wyckoff has filed suit against the company that made the dip.

Class action suits have been filed against Senor Felix in both Washington and California by the Seattle law firm of Marler Clark.

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