About E. coli

From the nation’s leading law firm representing victims of E. coli and other foodborne illness outbreaks.

Chapter 11

E. coli Outbreaks

E. coli O157:H7 first became a household name during an outbreak in the western U.S. that began in late 1992, and lasted into 1993. The E. coli outbreak was linked to the consumption of hamburgers served by the Jack in the Box Restaurant chain. Cases were reported from Washington (602 cases/144 hospitalizations/3 deaths), Idaho (14 cases/4 hospitalizations/no deaths), California (34 cases/14 hospitalizations/1 death), and Nevada (58 cases/9 hospitalizations/no deaths). The investigation into the Jack in the Box E. colioutbreak revealed that restaurant outlets were serving contaminated beef and were not cooking the hamburgers thoroughly. Seventy-three Jack in the Box restaurants were ultimately identified as part of the outbreak and recall. A trace-back was conducted, and five slaughter plants in the United States and one in Canada were identified as the likely sources of beef used by Von Corporation in the production of the hamburger patties sold to Jack in the Box. No one slaughter plant or farm was ever identified as the source of the beef.

In 2011, an E. coli O104:H4 outbreak in Europe that was eventually attributed to the consumption of fenugreek sprouts grown at a farm in Germany was impressive in terms of its devastation. Primary cases were associated with sprout consumption; secondary transmission was also documented. The E. coli outbreak resulted in 4321 cases, an unknown number of hospitalizations, at least 908 instances of hemolytic uremic syndrome, and at least 50 deaths. Cases were reported throughout the European Union and the United States. Five of the six cases residing in the United States had recently traveled to Germany; the sixth case had contact with one of the other cases. The fenugreek sprout seeds had been imported into the European Union from Egypt. 

The E. coli O104:H4 was particularly novel in that it was highly resistant to antibiotics and lacked a gene which had been thought key in causing kidney damage. It had the ability to gather on the surface of the intestinal wall in a dense pattern, possibly enhancing the bacteria’s ability to pump Shiga toxin into the body.

Past E. coli Outbreaks

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