Health officials say there is no conclusive evidence that food from Applebee’s restaurants in Minnesota is linked to an E. coli outbreak, but the restaurants have switched suppliers for some foods after temporarily removing some fresh produce items from menus.
The Minnesota Department of Health continues to investigate the outbreak of E. coli 0111 that it originally reported July 14. At least 15 people in the state are confirmed to have infections from the bacteria as of July 23, said the department’s public information officer Doug Schultz.
Schultz said the department is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as part of its traceback investigation.
The CDC is investigating cases of the same strain of E. coli in other states, according to Dana Pitts, associate communications director.
“This (E. coli) pattern combination has never been seen before in the PulseNet database, Pitts said. “CDC is assisting with this ongoing investigation and is aware of three additional cases in three states that match the outbreak strain in Minnesota. The states do not wish to be identified at this time.”
Minnesota officials have interviewed 14 of the 15 sick people in their state and found that 12 ate at Applebee’s between June 23 and 29. Those numbers and consultation with state officials spurred the restaurants to remove Oriental chicken salad from their menus, said Applebee’s spokesman Dan Smith.
Smith said the voluntary, temporary menu changes also included removing fresh cabbage and shredded carrots. He also stressed the CDC has not confirmed a link between the restaurants and the outbreak.
“As of (July 18) the restaurant operators in Minnesota changed suppliers of some foods,” Smith said, declining to specify what suppliers or foods. “All of the items voluntarily removed have been returned to their menus.”
The Oriental chicken salad contains “fresh Asian greens tossed in a tasty Oriental vinaigrette and topped with crispy noodles, toasted almonds and golden fried chicken,” according to the Applebee’s website. A photo on the website shows lettuce, red cabbage and carrots in the salad.
Schultz said the Minnesota health officials advised the restaurants to pull certain fresh produce items based on interviews with people confirmed to have the outbreak strain of E. coli.
“We are still working on the traceback,” Schultz said. “There isn’t any definitive evidence yet on the cause.”
Schultz said there also is no apparent connection between the E. coli 0111 outbreak and a subsequent outbreak of what is suspected to be E. coli 0157 among people who had been at the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Reservation about 15 miles west of Duluth. About a dozen people reported illnesses that are now under investigation by tribal and state officials.