Several federal agencies have been tracking a multi-state outbreak of illness due to foodborne pathogens. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a public alert in May 2019 identifying the source of the foodborne illness outbreak – seafood raised at the Estero El Cardon estuary.
With the cooperation of the Mexican government, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has put a stop to the import of all raw oysters from a certain growing location in the Estero El Cardon estuary, which is located near Punta Abreojos in Baja California Sur, Mexico.
Foodborne Pathogens Lead to Recalls
As the California State Department of Health began to track initial reports of illness caused by foodborne pathogens, it seemed the source of the outbreak was somewhat contained. DiCarlo Seafood Wilmington was the first to issue a limited recall of some oysters harvested from the Estero El Cardon estuary. The recall notice identified a possible link to gastrointestinal illnesses in California.
As federal and state agencies continued to receive reports about illnesses, almost a half dozen different foodborne pathogens were identified and linked to oysters. What’s more, all the contaminated oysters had come from the Estero El Cardon estuary. The growing location closed the next day pending the results of a thorough investigation of the outbreak.
On May 9, 2019, the FDA announced that they are working with Mexican Shellfish Authorities to stop the import and consumption of contaminated shellfish. The oysters were imported into California by the distribution company, SOL AZUL, S.A. DE C.V. The CDC issued a food safety alert advising consumers, cooks, and retail locations to discard any and all oysters harvested in the Estero El Cardon estuary.
Multiple Pathogens Identified
In the last six months, there have been 16 cases of gastrointestinal illness related to the recalled oysters. So far, the CDC reports victims in five states, and at least two hospitalizations. One of the more concerning aspects of this outbreak is the fact that multiple foodborne pathogens have been identified. These include:
- Shigella flexneri infection
- Vibrio parahaemolyticus infection
- Vibrio parahaemolyticus and Shiga toxin-producing E. coli together
- Both Vibrio parahaemolyticus and Shigella flexneri together
- Shigella flexneri and Campylobacter lari together
- Vibrio albensis infection
- Norovirus infection
- An unknown species of Vibrio
- Four cases of illness without identification of a pathogen
The majority of victims in the outbreak ate raw oysters in restaurants in California and Nevada. However, the CDC has also confirmed illnesses related to this outbreak in Illinois, New Hampshire, and Alaska.
Symptoms of Foodborne Illness
The symptoms caused by of each of these foodborne pathogens are somewhat similar. By and large, foodborne illness causes mild symptoms within one to four days of consuming contaminated food. The common symptoms of foodborne illness include:
- Diarrhea (that may be watery or bloody)
- Abdominal cramps or pain
Most symptoms will resolve on their own within about a week. However, if you have recently eaten raw oysters and you have any of the following symptoms, you should seek medical attention immediately:
- Diarrhea with a high fever (greater than 102 degrees)
- Diarrhea for more than three days
- Bloody stools
- Prolonged vomiting that prevents you from keeping liquids down
- Signs of dehydration, such as a decrease in urination, dry mouth, dry throat, and dizziness when standing
As with most foodborne illnesses, individuals who are otherwise weak or vulnerable are more likely to suffer severe illness when exposed to foodborne pathogens. Children, the elderly, adults with depressed immune systems, and pregnant women have the highest risk of hospitalization when exposed to foodborne pathogens.
An Overview of Foodborne Pathogens
Though these pathogens affect the body in similar ways, it is very unusual for a single food source to carry so many individual foodborne pathogens into the food supply. The number of victims who have contracted more than one foodborne pathogen in connection with this outbreak is truly shocking.
The pathogens involved in this outbreak run the gamut from the mildly concerning to the potentially fatal. Seek medical attention at the first sign of foodborne illness, especially if you have recently consumed raw oysters.
Keep in mind this overview of the variety of foodborne pathogens found to be contaminating oysters:
- Norovirus – This pathogen causes symptoms most people associate with foodborne illness, like vomiting and diarrhea that lasts for days. Its most serious risk of complication is dehydration, especially for children or the elderly.
- Campylobacter – In addition to gastrointestinal distress and fever, campylobacter can sometimes spread into the bloodstream and cause a life-threatening infection.
- Shigella – In addition to the usual food poisoning symptoms, the particular strain of Shigella connected to this outbreak, Shigella flexneri, causes post-infectious arthritis in about two percent of victims, which can become a chronic condition.
- Vibrio bacteria – The CDC identified two different strains of Vibrio bacteria in connection with this outbreak. Like most food-borne illnesses, Vibrio bacteria are most dangerous to people with a weak immune system. Vibrio bacteria have also been known to cause a skin infection when people encounter it in seawater.
- Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) – STEC causes food poisoning symptoms that can be severely uncomfortable. Five to 10 percent of patients infected with this strain of E. coli will later develop Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS). Most HUS patients will require hospitalization because the condition can cause kidney failure and even prove fatal.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the FDA, and the CDC have warned the public for years to avoid consuming raw oysters because of the threat of an outbreak like this one. Naturally, removing such a popular food item from menus around the U.S. is nearly impossible. Further, it is impossible to gauge which oysters may be affected, or how consumers will tolerate foodborne pathogens if exposed.
Have you Become Ill After Eating Raw Oysters? Call Bad Food Recall
Illnesses caused by foodborne pathogens are not only inconvenient and painful, but they also carry the threat of life-altering complications. For some people, these pathogens even carry the risk of death. Americans have the right to eat the food they choose, even raw oysters. However, they also have the right to expect food producers to ensure that the foods they distribute are safe.
At this time the CDC has not completed their investigation and has not publicly named the party believed to be at fault for this widespread outbreak. Nevertheless, consumers should be proactive in exploring their legal rights. An ongoing investigation is no impediment for the experienced foodborne safety attorneys at Bad Food Recall.
If you have experienced illness from foodborne pathogens like the ones discussed here, we can help you learn more about your rights and options. Schedule your free consultation by calling us at 1-877-534-5750. You can also submit our online contact form.