Thursday, December 27, 2007

Party Pooper - And No Way To Trace It

Bill Marler at Marler Blog just posted a report describing a North Carolina wedding party gone bad.

According to the outbreak report released to him by the State of North Carolina, 27 out of 110 guests (and an unreported number of workers) at a catered wedding reception took home something more than a piece of wedding cake. They received a dose of E. coli O157:H7 with their wedding feast.

The epidemiological investigation, the results of which are provided in detail in the full report, pointed to London Broil as the most probable source of the pathogen. This could not be confirmed, since there was no left-over meat to test. And the source of the meat could not be traced, because there was no record of the original producer. The final paragraph of the report states, in part, that
"The association between London Broil flank steaks and the outbreak was reported to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, and a compliance officer from that agency examined the invoices and other records the caterer had regarding those steaks. The invoice information indicated who the distributor for the product was, but there were no records available to identify the original producer for the meat. Therefore it is impossible to complete traceback for the item, or to identify unopened product that could be tested."
So, once more, the consumer was treated as the canary in the cage. Proper record keeping would have allowed investigators to identify the source of the meat and request a recall, if appropriate. Instead, all that North Carolina could do was post the "fingerprint" of the offending E. coli O157:H7 in the national data base and wait for a match. As of November 29th, the date of the final report, this appears to have been an isolated incident.

A download link to obtain the full report is available at Marler Blog for those who are interested in the details. Thanks, Bill, for making this available.

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