At least 94 people fell ill with E. coli O157:H7 after dining at a single Federico’s Mexican Restaurant location in Litchfield Park, AZ, according to the final outbreak report released on Monday by the Maricopa County Department of Public Health.
The final report summarizes the investigation into the outbreak, in which patients began falling ill in mid-July.
One patient, 16-year-old Kiley Doherty, came down with symptoms on July 28 and ended up spending 28 days in the hospital. Kiley became one of two victims in the outbreak to develop hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a life-threatening kidney disease associated with severe E. coli infections.
Kiley, who was 15 when she fell ill, lost 15 pounds and was sickened to the point where she could not walk. While she has been discharged and has returned to school – after missing the first two weeks of the new school year – she is still trying to recover some vision damage caused by a swollen optic nerve during her infection.
“No parent wants to see their kid going through anything, but this is certainly the worst thing I could have imagined for my daughter,” said Richard Doherty, Kiley’s father. “Every day was a new battle for her.”
The investigation implicated contaminated lettuce as a probable source of infection from environmental testing and a case-control study.
Beef and fresh produce were both supplied to the restaurant by Midwest Beef. The company supplies other restaurants in the Phoenix area, including other Federico’s locations, although E. coli illnesses were not associated with any other restaurants in the area at the time of the outbreak.
According to the report, no restaurant employees reported illnesses during the month of July, and the number of illnesses would be an unusually large number to have occurred from an ill restaurant worker.
The lettuce may have been cross-contaminated from another food in the restaurant, the report adds. Alternatively, the restaurant may have received a small, highly contaminated batch of lettuce.
Kylie’s father, Richard, said that, while the restaurant’s management did not mean to sicken anyone, they had an obligation to the public to ensure their food was safe to eat.
Food-safety attorney Bill Marler represents 35 patients sickened in the outbreak. Marler’s law firm, Seattle-based Marler Clark, underwrites Food Safety News.© Food Safety News