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Wendy's E. coli Outbreak Lawsuits - Oregon, 2000

In late August of 2000, Marion County Health Department (MCHD) epidemiologists learned that several Marion County, Oregon, residents had become ill with E. coli O157:H7 infections, and that at least two were hospitalized with hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). MCHD’s preliminary investigation into the E. coli outbreak linked the illnesses to a Wendy’s restaurant in Salem, Oregon, and Wendy’s International, Inc. closed the restaurant on August 25.

After discovering the outbreak, MCHD issued a press release regarding the E. coli outbreak, and urged individuals who had eaten at the Wendy’s restaurant and had become ill with symptoms of E. coli infection in the days thereafter to report their illness. In addition, MCHD conducted a case-control study to determine which foods purchased form Wendy’s were associated with E. coli infection.

The case-control study resulted in the finding that at least 35 confirmed and presumptive E. coli cases could be traced to the Wendy’s restaurant in Salem; one E. coli case matching the outbreak strain had eaten food from the Wendy’s restaurant in Tualatin. MCDH and the Oregon Department of Health and Human Services believed the number to be higher since many patients did not present with bloody diarrhea, a common symptom of E. coli infection, and did not meet the case definition.

Thirteen of sixteen cases reported having eaten items with lettuce, suggesting that it might have been the primary vehicle for the Wendy’s E. coli outbreak; however, the Tualatin Wendy’s received lettuce from a different supplier. Both restaurants received ground beef from the same supplier, and MCHD noted that food handling procedures at the Commercial Street Wendy’s presented opportunities for cross-contamination from the ground beef to other food items. In particular, soaking lettuce in the sink used to rinse pans violated both state health code and Wendy’s food-handling protocol, but occurred at the Commercial Street Wendy’s during an inspection.

Marler Clark’s E. coli lawyers represented fifteen victims of the Wendy’s E. coli outbreak in claims against the restaurant chain, including two young boys who developed HUS and will suffer life-long complications related to their E. coli infections. The claims were resolved in late 2001 and early 2002.

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