The Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention investigated nine foodborne illness outbreaks in 2018 that affected residents of California.
Eight of the outbreaks were linked to E coli or salmonella bacteria in contaminated food. Of the 224 people in California who got sick due to the bacteria, several had to be hospitalized, and two people died.
The ninth investigation began after an outbreak of norovirus in Canada was linked to a shipment of raw oysters that were also sold in California.
Outbreaks Investigated in California in 2018*
|Foodborne Illness||Contaminated Food||Total Sick||Total Hospitalized||Total Deaths|
|E. coli O157:H7||Romaine lettuce from a farm in Yuma, AZ||210 (49 cases in CA)||96||5 (1 in CA)|
|Salmonella Reading (ongoing)||Raw turkey products from multiple facilities||279 (26 cases in CA)||107||1 (in CA)|
|Salmonella Newport||Ground beef from a supplier in Tolleson, AZ||333 (107 cases in CA)||91||0|
|Six different types of Salmonella||Food products containing kratom from a manufacturer in Las Vegas, NV||199 (13 cases in CA)||50||0|
|Salmonella Mbandaka||Kellogg’s Honey Smacks cereal||135 (11 cases in CA)||34||0|
|E. coli O157:H7||Romaine lettuce from a farm in Santa Barbara County||62 (12 cases in CA)||25||0|
|Salmonella Infantis||Raw chicken products from multiple facilities and establishments||92 (1 case in CA)||21||0|
|Salmonella Typhimurium||Dried coconut from a supplier in New York||14 (5 cases in CA)||3||0|
|Norovirus (stomach flu)||Raw oysters harvested in Canada||176 in Canada||No data available||0|
*Unless otherwise indicated by a link, this information was sourced by the FDA’s online outbreak reports.
E coli outbreaks
E. coli stands for Escherichia coli. This bacteria was responsible for two foodborne illness outbreaks in California in 2018.
In one case, E coli was found in romaine lettuce grown in Yuma, Ariz., causing 210 people in 36 different states to become sick. Five people died, including one person in California. The CDC announced the end of the outbreak on June 28, 2018.
A few months later in October, new cases of E coli were reported. Although no genetic link was found between the two E coli outbreaks, the FDA traced the origin of the second outbreak to more romaine lettuce—this time from a farm in Santa Barbara County. The farm, as well as a company that used the lettuce in packaged sandwiches, recalled several products from the market to prevent others from getting sick and by January 2019, the outbreak appeared to have ended.
E coli symptoms
Anyone, of any age, could become infected with E coli. Although the effects of an E coli infection vary from person to person, the FDA has identified a few common symptoms, including severe stomach cramps, bloody diarrhea, and a slight fever of 101°F or less.
The illness becomes more serious if the patient develops a complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome, which is a type of kidney failure and can be life-threatening. About 5-10% of people with an E coli infection also get HUS. Last year, 29 of the 272 people who got E coli infections also developed HUS.
E coli prevention
The best way to prevent an E coli outbreak is to follow basic food safety principles. Wash your hands with soap and water frequently. Clean and sanitize your fridge, utensils, cutting boards, and food preparation surfaces regularly. Finally, always rinse fresh produce in clean, running water.
Salmonella is a bacteria that causes salmonellosis. The CDC estimates that about 1.2 million people get salmonellosis in the United States each year, of which 1 million cases are contracted by eating contaminated food.
There are various types of Salmonella bacteria. Several types appeared in California last year, causing a total of 153 Californians to become sick in six different foodborne illness outbreaks. One person died from salmonellosis.
The bacteria was found in a variety of foods, including raw turkey, ground beef, breakfast cereal, raw chicken, and dried coconut. One supplier pulled 6.9 million pounds of ground beef from the market after one of its facilities was linked to a Salmonella outbreak.
Most people with salmonellosis, or a Salmonella infection, experience diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps. These symptoms typically appear 12-72 hours after infection and last 4-7 days. Most people recover on their own, but sometimes the infection can spread from the intestines to the bloodstream and other parts of the body, which can be life-threatening.
Highly susceptible populations like children under 5 years old, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems are most likely to develop severe salmonellosis.
To prevent salmonellosis, food establishments should not sell or use any recalled products. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water and make sure to clean and sanitize all utensils and food-contact surfaces regularly. Never wash raw meat before cooking, and cook all raw meat to the appropriate internal temperature to kill bacteria.
Norovirus 2018 outbreak
Norovirus is a virus that causes food poisoning symptoms and is commonly known as stomach flu. The virus is primarily found in feces, and typically spreads through contaminated food or contact with an infected person.
In 2018, 176 people in Canada became ill with norovirus. The Public Health Agency of Canada traced the outbreak to a shipment of raw oysters harvested in parts of Baynes Sound in British Columbia, and the oyster farms associated with the contaminated oysters were closed to prevent more people from getting sick.
The FDA got involved after it confirmed that some of the contaminated oysters had been distributed in California and other states. The agency instructed retailers, restaurants, and other food establishments to throw away any oysters they suspected could be contaminated.
Diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, and stomach pain are all common signs you’ve been infected with norovirus. The symptoms typically appear 12-48 hours after infection and last 1-3 days.
Anyone who eats raw shellfish, or another food that’s become contaminated, could potentially get norovirus. The infection is more likely to be severe in children under 5 years old, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems.
At a food establishment, the key to preventing norovirus is to keep food away from infected people. Norovirus is very contagious, which is a big reason why sick food handlers should stay home from work.
If you’ve experienced any symptoms of norovirus, notify your manager and stay home until the symptoms have been gone for at least 24 hours. In addition, whether or not you feel sick, make sure to wash your hands after using the bathroom!
Foodborne illness prevention
In general, you can help prevent foodborne illness by following these simple tips.
- Wash your hands with soap and water frequently—especially after using the bathroom.
- Clean and sanitize your fridge, utensils, cutting boards, and food preparation surfaces regularly.
- Always rinse fresh produce in clean, running water.
- Never wash raw meat before cooking.
- Do not use any recalled food products.
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— Jessica Pettit