Update: The E. coli O157 outbreak in the Seattle area linked to Mexican food served at farmers markets and from food trucks is now at nine confirmed and one probable case, according to King County Public Health. The source of the problem has not yet been found. Hilary Karasz, a spokeswoman for the department, told Food Safety News on Friday that Los Chilangos, the restaurant operating the food trucks, had been given permission to again operate and that any updates on the situation would be posted here. Local media reports indicated that Los Chilangos intended to reopen on Thursday and that the decision was not sitting well with one family whose young daughter has been hospitalized for the past 10 days for kidney failure associated with E. coli infection. Elizabeth Buder, 4, has been at Seattle Children’s Hospital in the intensive care unit, according to her mother, Deanna Buder. Her parents told a local TV station that they shared a carnitas plate from a Los Chilangos food truck with their daughter on Aug. 8 and that Elizabeth had later complained of an upset stomach. She ended up being taken to the emergency room with bloody diarrhea, her mother said. “There should be consequences beyond shutting down the kitchen for a few days,” Buder said. Meanwhile, a two-page Food Establishment Inspection Report of Los Chilangos from King County Public Health dated Sept. 2, 2015, shows that the restaurant’s 2015-2016 annual food service establishment permit was expired but was paid via a phone call. The report also shows that all food opened or prepared at the now-closed Bellevue community kitchen which Los Chilangos used had been discarded and that routine food safety measures, such as hand-washing, no bare hand contact with ready-to-eat foods, and required produce washing (including of cilantro) at a food prep sink had been reviewed with the restaurant operators. Two new items were added to the report. The first was that food workers would review and sign a Food Employee Reporting Agreement identifying their responsibility to prevent transmission of diseases through food by infected workers. The second was that no leftover hot food would be cooled and reserved, but that hot foods would be discarded each day if not served. The previous Food Safety News story follows: Officials with King County Public Health in Seattle, WA, are investigating six cases of E. coli O157 infection which have been linked to Mexican food sold at local farmers markets in the area. Three people have reportedly been hospitalized, including a four-year-old girl. “Through a few initial interviews with ill people, we determined that everyone who became sick had something in common – they ate food prepared by a local food vendor called Los Chilangos,” health department officials said in a statement released Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2015. Los Chilangos has two food trucks, caters food at local events, and serves food at seven farmers markets in King and Snohomish counties. They use the Eastside Commercial Kitchen in Bellevue, where they share space and equipment with about a dozen other food businesses. After an inspection, public health officials found overall conditions and cross-contamination potential such that they issued a cease-and-desist order to the commissary kitchen on Aug. 27. Also, all food vendors with permits from King County Public Health who use the kitchen were told to cease operations. “Recognizing that this lapse in operation hurts business, our team has worked diligently with these vendors to find new places for them to resume their work and remind them about important food safety measures,” health officials said. Twelve employees of Los Chilangos were tested for E. coli infection but were negative, according to a local TV station. The restaurant owners told the station that illnesses occurred Aug. 8 and 12 at the Issaquah and Sammamish farmers markets, but that the food was tested and temperatures were fine. They also said it was the first such problem they’ve had in nine years of being in business. The cilantro Los Chilangos uses in its dishes is reportedly being tested. Fresh cilantro from Mexico has recently been linked to hundreds of foodborne illness cases in 29 states, but that outbreak is caused by Cyclospora, a single-cell parasite, not E. coli. So far, King County Public Health officials have interviewed people who got sick to determine the common food items they might have eaten, investigated the business associated with those food items, closed the shared kitchen, and ordered vendors sharing the space to stop operating. The next step is to investigate the source of the E. coli, they said. “If we determine that a food contained the E. coli bacteria, we will try to trace it back to stores, suppliers, and even farms to address the root of the problem with corrective actions, if possible,” officials said, adding that there could be other sources besides Los Chilangos. The source may never be found, they cautioned, and while E. coli is often linked to beef, it can also be linked to produce, such as spinach and sprouts, and other foods, such as unpasteurized juices, raw milk, game meats, and other common foods.
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