California Farm Recalls Vegetable Mix in Costco Salads Linked to E. coli Outbreak

According to the Food and Drug Administration, a California farm is recalling a vegetable mix believed to have been the source of E. coli in Costco chicken salad linked to a potential outbreak that has sickened 19 people in seven states. Company officials have stated that the E. coli epidemic, traced to Costco chicken salads, appears to have been triggered by vegetables in the salad, rather than the chicken itself.

Craig Wilson, Costco’s vice president of food safety and quality assurance, told USA Today that tests have been undertaken by the Food and Drug Administration, and Montana health officials linked the E. coli to an onion and celery mix, rather than the rotisserie chicken itself.

Health officials are also performing additional tests to confirm the link. Costco said it uses one supplier for those vegetables in the chicken salad sold in all its U.S. stores. A message was left to Taylor Farms, but it was never returned. The Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated on Wednesday that the number of people affected by the outbreak is expected to increase in the coming weeks, although the product has been taken off store shelves.

Nineteen people in seven states have been sickened in the outbreak of E. coli 0157, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Five victims were hospitalized, and two developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a type of kidney failure. Victims are from Montana, Washington, California, Colorado, Utah, Missouri, and Virginia.

“When it comes to produce, there is no zero risk,” said Ben Chapman, an associate professor and food safety specialist at North Carolina State University. “There are just so many points where it can be contaminated, between the field and someone’s plate.” E. coli can get into the food chain in a variety of ways. Outbreaks have been linked to animal manure left behind by deer and even wild pigs, Chapman said.

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It is also quite important to note that both Costco and Taylor Farms have always had a good reputation with regard to food safety, said William Marler, a Seattle attorney who has represented victims of foodborne illness and whose law firm operates a database of food poisoning outbreaks.

“Costco has always done a good job with food safety,” Marler said. “They are probably one of the better stores out there, which shows just how vulnerable a supply chain is to E. coli or salmonella. Even if you have the best food safety systems in place, it always requires constant monitoring and oversight.”

Similarly, Marler said, “Taylor Farms is a big player in the fresh vegetable industry. They have been around a long time and they have sophisticated systems in place.” However, outbreaks can happen even at careful companies. “With mass-produced food, the opportunity for problems is really high,” Marler said.

Symptoms of E. coli infection include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea, and vomiting. The incubation period is three to seven days from the time of exposure. Health officials have urged people with any of the symptoms, in particular those who have eaten Costco chicken salad, to consult a doctor.

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