Food Safety News: French E. coli outbreak linked to cucumbers from Belgium
French E. coli outbreak linked to cucumbers from Belgium
Date: Wed 3 Aug 2022
Source: Food Safety News [edited]
More than 30 people were sick in France in late 2021 as part of an outbreak traced to contaminated cucumbers. In September 2021, the Hauts-de-France Regional Health Agency was notified of a suspected foodborne outbreak among students in the Lille area. Two hospitalized children were diagnosed with hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). HUS is a severe complication associated with certain _Escherichia coli_ infections that causes kidney failure. The agency asked Santé Publique France [Public Health France] for support in investigating the incident.
In total, 35 patients with gastroenteritis, half of whom had bloody diarrhea and fever, were identified. A total of 10 people were hospitalized. Identified cases were 29 children in 4 schools and 5 elderly adults who received meals through a local delivery program. One case was the parent of a pupil. Five children and one adult had meals delivered to them at home. The median age of patients was 8 with a range of 4 to 89 years old and almost two-thirds were female. School cafeterias and the meal delivery service were all supplied by the same municipal canteen.
A case-control study in the impacted schools (https://www.santepubliquefrance.fr/content/download/452601/document_file/531406_spf00004004.pdf) identified the consumption of cucumber salad, served on one day in September 2021 and used in home deliveries the day after, as the likely source of illness. The number of people sick is likely underestimated, as about 1000 meals were served per day.
Control dishes for the meals of 2 days in September, kept refrigerated in the central kitchen, were analyzed. Shiga toxin-producing _E. coli_ [also called enterohemorrhagic _E. coli_ EHEC] O157 was isolated in stool samples for 8 patients including the 2 HUS cases, and in a sample of cucumber salad. Genomic analysis of isolates confirmed that all human and food strains belonged to the same cluster, indicating the source was the same. Investigations identified a failure in the decontamination process and incomplete peeling of cucumbers that didn't eliminate surface contamination as factors contributing to the outbreak. As part of the decontamination process, before preparation, a chlorine solution was used that had an expiry date of 2018.
Implicated cucumbers were grown in Belgium and health authorities in the country were informed. An inspection by Belgian officials did not reveal any problems at the wholesaler, and no samples were taken because there were no cucumbers in stock from the batch linked to the outbreak. This batch came from 2 different Belgian producers. Samples from a producer of a different batch were negative for _E. coli_, so officials could not find the source of contamination.
Although cucumbers from the same batch were also distributed elsewhere in the Hauts-de-France region, no other related EHEC infections were notified. Traceability work showed around 120 establishments in Hauts-de-France received cucumbers from the same batch as the contaminated ones prepared by the central kitchen related to the outbreak. In most cases, cucumbers had already been consumed, but no health issues had been raised. They were not sold directly to the public.
[byline: Joe Whitworth]
[It appears that the cases were found related only to one central kitchen and not the other places where the cucumbers were distributed, which could mean that the defects in preparation as described were at fault, but it is possible that the contamination was also local. - Mod.LL
Hauts-de-France, France: https://promedmail.org/promed-post?place=8704899,59405]
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