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Analytical Report Essay

The purpose of this report is to concentrate on presenting and discussing the facts about E. coli outbreak in fast food restaurant in recent 20 years. We investigated and analyzed several fast food restaurants that had ever been suffered E. coli outbreaks in recent 20 years. I try to find relationship between the E. coli outbreak and restaurants management, if there exist any solutions to resolve and stop E. coli outbreak happening in fast food restaurants. My research plan includes 5 phases 1) brief introduce where the bacteria E. coli comes from and rise the questions about E. coli people may concern about 2) gather information of timeline for Reporting Cases of E. coli O157 Infection 3) explore the cases of E. coli outbreaks and analyze important specific E. coli outbreaks in fast food restaurants

4) discuss the results of each E. coli outbreaks 5) provides some preventions and recommendations about E. coli outbreaks in fast food restaurants in the future. The conclusion of 3 E. coli outbreaks presents that cooking way and raw material for fast food restaurants are significant elements and play an important role in E. coli outbreaks. We need pay more attention to supervise and control the source of any possible E. coli contamination. In addition, everyone serve food in fast food restaurants should have a good hygienic practice thus create a better environment and stop E. coli outbreaks in fast food restaurants.


Currently, on any given day, about a quarter of Americans consume burgers, fries, and sodas, the staples of the all-American fast food fix. Usually people did not think fast food lethality until a confirmed outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 was associated with eating ground beef, hamburger, at McDonald’s Restaurant outlets in Oregon and Michigan in 1982. This was the first time that E. coli O157:H7 was linked to an outbreak; at that time, this serotype was thought of as rare in occurrence. Suddenly, fast food hamburgers — a staple of American culture — were potentially lethal. Since its identification as a pathogen in the early 1980s, Escherichia coli 0157:H7 has come to be recognized as an important cause of hemorrhagic colitis and the hemolytic uremie syndrome (HUS). Infection has most commonly been linked to consumption of foods derived from cattle, such as undercooked ground beef and unpasteurized milk. In early 1990s, a massive food-borne outbreak caused by E. coli O157:H7 was recognized in the western United States.

The outbreak, which was linked to the consumption of undercooked hamburger in multiple outlets of a fast-food chain restaurant (chain A), included more than 500 documented cases of infection and three deaths. Outbreak findings oblige regulatory and public health agencies and industry to evaluate prevention and control measures so similar outbreaks can be prevented. Knowledge of transmission routes and vehicles allows consumers to be educated on reducing risky behavior that can decrease their risk for infection. There are many strains of the bacteria Escherichia coli (E. coli). Most strains are harmless and live in the intestines of healthy humans and animals. Some kinds of E. coli cause disease by producing Shiga toxin. The bacteria that make these toxins are called “Shiga toxin-producing” E. coli (STEC).

The most commonly found STEC in the U.S. is E. coli O157:H7. These E. coli strains are pathogenic, meaning they can cause illness, either diarrhea or illness outside of intestinal tract. People of all ages can be infected, but young children and the elderly are more likely to develop severe symptoms. The types of E. coli that can cause illness can be transmitted through contaminated water or food, or through contact with animals or people. Several questions have aroused concerns. This study performed content analysis to gather information of restaurant actions dealing with events of E. coli outbreaks. What Causes an E. coli O157:H7 associated Foodborne Illness? How Is the E. coli O157:H7 Bacterium Spread? How to minimizing the Risk of E. coli O157:H7 in fast food restaurant or food service establishments? How does E. coli outbreak impact fast food restaurant business in long period of time?


Timeline for Reporting Cases of E. coli O157


The time from the beginning of the person’s illness to the confirmation that he or she was part of an outbreak is typically about 2-3 weeks. Case counts during an outbreak investigation are therefore always preliminary and must be interpreted within this context. The time from when a person is exposed to E. coli O157 from contaminated food, water, or an infected animal or person to the beginning of symptoms, which is typically 1-3 days. However, the time from when a person gives a stool sample to when E. coli O157 is obtained from it in a laboratory. This may be 1-3 days from the time the sample is received in the laboratory. A series of events occurs between the time a person is infected and the time public health officials can determine that the person is part of an outbreak. This means that there will be a delay between when a person gets sick and confirmation that he or she is part of an outbreak.

Figure 1: The time from when a person is exposed to E. coli O157 from contaminated food, water, or an infected animal or person to the confirmation (CDC, 2013) Summary of main events of E. coli outbreak in fast food restaurants in recent 20 years Jack in the Box outbreak in January 1993, which outbreak killed 3 children and makes about 500 people sick in the Northwest U.S. and this outbreak was first time E. coli O157:H7 strain outbreak. 25 million pounds of meat produced at a Hudson Foods plant in Columbus, Neb. is recalled in 1997, fifteen people become ill as a result of the contamination. An outbreak begins in New Jersey and New York at nine different Taco Bell locations in 2006.

Topps Meat Company issues a recall of its frozen burgers after six people fall ill and three are hospitalized due to E. coli from Topps burgers in 2007. In 2008, a recall was announced for ground beef sold at Kroger® Co. Stores in Michigan and Ohio. Later, the Kroger® Co. expanded the recall to include ground beef products from Kroger® establishments outside of Michigan and Ohio. Multi-State Outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 Infections From Fresh Spinach in October 2006. Three deaths in confirmed cases have been associated with the outbreak. In 2009, AFA Foods recalls more than 500,000 pounds of ground beef after an outbreak of E. coli is linked to the deaths of two people.

Figure 2. Median size of Escherichia coli O157 outbreaks by year, according to CDC for 52% of 350 outbreaks and 61% of 8,598 outbreak-related cases from 1982 to 2002 Case Study

Case of Jack in the Box’s

The fast food restaurant chain Jack in the Box began selling hamburgers contaminated with E. coli in 1992. Soon, hundreds were sick and four children succumbed to the illness and died. Documents filed in U.S. District Court showed that the company knew about but chose not to follow safe-cooking standards that would have killed the E. coli bacteria in their hamburger patties. The company’s reason, according to documents filed in court: “If patties are cooked longer … they tend to become tough.” That comment appeared in a company response to an employee in a Jack In The Box restaurant who was concerned that cooking to the company’s standards left burgers underdone. Had the company in 1992 followed state regulations, which mandate that hamburgers be cooked to an internal temperature of 155 degrees, the epidemic would have been prevented, health experts say. State officials say a state law superseded a federal guideline at the time of 140 degrees.

In the first period of investigation, Jack in the Box’s company believed the quality of the meat was high and that the restaurants were cooking hamburgers to what the Food and Drug Administration said was a safe temperature. The Washington Department of Health (WDOH) E. coli outbreak investigation led to the discovery that regular-sized hamburger patties and “jumbo” hamburger patties produced by Von Companies of California and sold by Jack in the Box were the source of the E. coli outbreak. The outbreak strain of E. coli O157:H7 was isolated from 11 lots of patties produced on November 29 and 30, 1992, and Jack in the Box issued a recall of all ground beef produced on that day that was still in restaurants.

About 20 percent of the implicated ground beef was recovered through the recall. Documents indicate Vons identified a higher-than-usual level of general E. coli contamination in the batch of hamburger that caused the epidemic. The batch was produced Nov. 19, 1992, more than a month before Jack In The Box began selling the burgers. According to depositions of Vons employees, Vons never notified Foodmaker of the E. coli level, as the company’s contract required. Foodmaker officials contend, however, that this breach of contract was directly responsible for the outbreak.

Case of Taco Bell restaurants

The Mexican-style fast-food chain removed green onions from all 5,800 of its restaurants across the country after tests indicated that they could be to blame for an outbreak of E. coli. This outbreak of E. coli bacteria has sickened more than a dozen people in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania including several who ate at Taco Bell, prompting officials to ask that eight of the fast-food restaurants be closed. Philadelphia interim health commissioner Carmen I. Paris said in a statement, “I have contacted company officials and asked that they voluntarily close all 15 of their establishments in Philadelphia until they are given approval by the health department.” In Long Island, an E. coli outbreak sickened at least 14 people, including 10 who ate at Taco Bell. Four restaurants were closed as a precaution in Suffolk County, and Nassau County officials asked that four additional restaurants be closed, health officials said.

The investigation into the Taco Bell E. coli outbreak focused first on green onions as the source; Taco Bell said preliminary testing by an independent lab found three samples of green onions that appeared to have a dangerous strain of the bacterium. But CDC and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) investigators later changed their focus to lettuce. According to an FDA news release on December 13, FDA investigators were working to trace back the potentially contaminated lettuce that had been served at Taco Bell restaurants to the farm where the lettuce was grown. Health officials described it as the largest E. coli outbreak to hit the Northeast in many years. Overall, at least 65 people are now known to have been infected, nine of whom remained in hospitals, including an 11-year-old boy who was in stable condition with kidney damage. The mystery arose Thursday, when a hospital in Middlesex County, N.J., notified the state Health Department of a confirmed case of E. coli.

More incidents were reported on Long Island in New York, and the reports spread Tuesday to Pennsylvania, where state health officials told NBC News that they had confirmed four patients, three of whom had eaten at separate Taco Bells in Montgomery County. In New York, Irene Abbad stopped at a Taco Bell on Long Island on Tuesday, but she was afraid to eat the food and ordered only a soft drink. After hearing about the outbreak, she called her son, who she said was a frequent Taco Bell customer. “I said, ‘Don’t eat Taco Bell for a while.’” Larry Miller, an analyst with RBC Capital Markets, said the outbreak could affect Taco Bell sales in the short term. “It will take time for consumers to get confidence back, but it will come back,” he said.

Case of Hudson Beef

In August 1997, after the discovery of frozen ground beef patties produced at the Hudson Foods, Columbus, Nebraska plant, being tainted with E. coli O157:H7, Hudson announced a recall; sickening at least 16 people, five of whom were hospitalized (luckily, none died). This time, it led to the largest meat recall ever seen at that point, which was expanded twice eventually to 25 million pounds. The USDA shut down the plant by removing its inspectors on August 21. On Aug. 12, the USDA ordered Hudson to recall 20 million pounds (more than 9 million kilograms) of their ground beef, making this one of few recalls on this list that were not voluntary. Soon, this number rose to 25 million pounds (more than 11 million kilograms). The most crippling effect was not direct recall costs, but the loss of Hudson’s best customer, fast-food giant Burger King, on Aug. 23. A few days later, Hudson sold the beef-processing plant that was the source of the outbreak. But, even without that plant, the company suffered from a tainted brand name. By early September, Tyson Foods offered to buy the company for $642.4 million — much less than it was worth a year earlier.

Though Hudson founders had previously turned down offers to sell, this time it was an offer they couldn’t refuse. Burger King offered ham-and-cheese sandwiches instead of Whoppers for lunch after Hudson beef outbreak as the fast-food chain sought new beef supplies to replace hamburger recalled from a Hudson Foods plant here. “You can’t have Burger King without burgers,” said David Clouse of Aurora, Colo who turned around and left after learning there were no burgers at a restaurant in Arapahoe County. “It’s just not the same.”

Burger King said 1,650 of its restaurants in 28 states were affected by the recall Thursday of 25 million pounds of Hudson Foods hamburger. The fast-food chain was not the only business affected by the recall, but it was the most visible. The restaurant chain will begin advertising in selected newspapers around the country in an effort to clear up confusion over whether its beef is safe. Although Burger King’s beef came from a different production line at the plant than the tainted beef, the recall left the company scrambling for new beef from different suppliers. The Minneapolis, Omaha and Denver areas were hardest hit at that time after Hudson beef E. coli outbreak.


Results of E. coli outbreak in fast food restaurants

Today, most fast-food companies and premium grocery chains have safety programs built on the same pillars. Based on cases study, I will analyze each case in the following paragraph. Raise the temperature of the hamburgers for Jack in the Box’s Frequent sampling requirements, tight limits on indicator bacteria, and zero tolerance for dangerous pathogens, these have been set up in Jack in the Box. The death of children in Jack in the Box’s E. coli outbreak taught the nation the importance of cooking hamburger meat thoroughly. This incident proved to be one of the most dramatic foodborne illness outbreaks ever and awoke people to the danger of E. coli. This is especially tragic considering that it was so preventable. Even though the raw meat was contaminated, cooking it to a high enough temperature (155 degrees Fahrenheit or 68.3 degrees Celsius) would have killed the E. coli and made it safe to eat.

However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) standards at this time only required the­ meat to be cooked to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. When this scandal proved that temperature was inadequate, the FDA raised the requirement to 155 degrees Fahrenheit. When the link to their hamburgers was discovered, the company that runs the restaurants, Foodmaker Inc., issued a recall in which they recovered about 20 percent of the tainted beef. Foodmaker lost approximately $160 million in sales and 30 percent of its stock market value as a result of the scandal; nevertheless, they eventually paid out tens of millions in individual and class action suits. Apparently, The epidemic awakened the industry nationwide to the dangers of E. coli O157:H7. Strict to practice food-handling rules

Taco Bell announced the removal of green onions from Taco Bell restaurants nationwide in response to preliminary tests suggesting they are the cause of the E. coli outbreak. In a statement after the outbreak that employees in Taco Bell are required to adhere to strict food-handling rules. The outbreaks have thrown the spotlight on a bacterium that is difficult to detect and virtually impossible to treat or eradicate. “We see it more and more and we don’t really know what to do about it,” says microbiologist John Fairbrother of the University of Montreal, Canada. Bacteria shed in feces contaminate meat in slaughterhouses or find their way onto vegetables grown near animals or irrigated with water contaminated with manure.

In this case, ultimately researchers must find the critical points in the food supply at which intervention can most reduce contamination, says food scientist Don Schaffner of Rutgers University, New Jersey. Burger King was impacted and Sales have dropped off after Hudson beef recall In the case of Hudson beef recall, even if it was not directly outbreak in fast food restaurant, yet Burger King was the company’s biggest beef customer. Burger King reported slumping sales 2 days after the Hudson beef recall. Burger King began monitoring the situation when a cluster of E. coli outbreaks was brought to their attention. Fortunately, customers did not lose faith with Burger King after they resell their burgers by using beef patties from other beef company, the sales quantity still was impacted for at least one week.

Food safety officials from fast-food chains and other big beef buyers share ideas and information about their programs, says Dane Bernard, vice president for food safety at Keystone Foods, a ground beef supplier to McDonald’s. “Our testing programs are constantly evolving. We watch the science closely.” The fast-food industry’s demand for uniform products has encouraged centralization in every agricultural sector. Fruits and vegetables are now being grown, packaged and shipped like industrial commodities. As a result, a little contamination can go a long way. However, outbreak surveillance has several limitations. E. coli O157 outbreaks captured by CDC’s surveillance system likely represent only a small proportion of outbreaks that occur. Many outbreaks go unrecognized, are classified as outbreaks of unknown etiology, and are not reported to local public health officials or CDC.

Smaller outbreaks and outbreaks with unknown transmission routes and vehicles are less likely to be reported, and this summary likely under represents such outbreaks. Including patients with compatible clinical illness without culture confirmation is another limitation of outbreak surveillance. However, given the broad clinical spectrum of E. coli O157 infection, and the limited number of infected persons with culture-confirmed illness, such inclusion allows us to better assess the true public health impact of E. coli O157. In addition, outbreak reporting may not be uniform across time periods or states.

Therefore, trends should be interpreted carefully, given the changing factors that may impact outbreak detection and reporting. The increased numbers of outbreaks reported since 1993 but with smaller sizes are likely due to increased awareness of disease, improved diagnostics, increased E. coli O157 testing, and improved outbreak detection through molecular subtyping. In 2007, according to the report from the Washington Times, the four most common bacteria, including salmonella and e-coli, contribute to about 5,000 deaths each year and cost our economy nearly $7 billion annually in the United States. These outbreaks are not only blows to victims’ health, but also the economy.

Prevention of E. coli outbreak in fast food restaurants

The Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points program (HACCP) begins requiring meat processors to establish critical checkpoints in the plants to prevent pathogens from contaminating meat. Inspectors from the food-safety agency randomly test all facilities that grind meat products to make sure that the plants are complying with the HACCP program. The USDA approves the irradiation process for meat in 1999. Irradiation is a process that uses beams of high-speed electrons to kill E. coli and other bacteria. There are several examples for putting effort on preventing E. coli from contaminating foods in Minnesota.

Huisken Meats in Sauk Rapids, Minnesota becomes the first meat processor to begin selling irradiated ground beef to retailers in 2000. Epitopix LLC, a Minnesota based veterinary pharmaceutical company, begins licensing a new vaccine for cows that reduces the transmission of E. coli between cows and humans. Dairy Queen based in Edina, MN offered SureBeam processed irradiated patties at 60 Minnesota stores from 2002, and was expanding the number of Minnesota stores offering SureBeam processed irradiated beef patties.


In conclusion I think to avoid eating E. coli contaminated food in restaurants, I recommend the following actions: Color is not a reliable indicator that ground beef, therefore, consumers should only eat ground beef or ground beef patties that have been cooked to a safe internal temperature of 160°F. Use good food safety practices when preparing or consuming ground beef. For restaurants severs, wash hands with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling raw meat and poultry; wash cutting boards, dishes and utensils with hot, soapy water; immediately clean spills. For restaurants customers, always washing hands carefully before eating food in case of bring any pathogen from other work places to you food, so that transmission routes will be limited. Encourage others to do the same by reminding kids to wash hands after using the toilet or before eating food.

E. coli infection can happen any time. So far it is difficult to stop every single E. coli outbreak away from our daily life. If we keep the environment healthy and clean, it may reduce the probability of E. coli outbreak; if we have quick response right after the E. coli outbreak in fast food restaurant, we may drop more cases of severe and fatal E. coli infections.


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