Two children, one in Nebraska and one in Kansas, were hospitalized in connection with the outbreak of E. coli linked to Pizza Ranch, a multi-state restaurant chain based in Orange City. Both were experiencing kidney failure as a result of developing hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a disease that is associated with E. coli 0157 infections, particularly – though not exclusively – in children.
A total of thirteen people contracted the outbreak strain of E. coli 0157. Five of the cases were in Minnesota. The remaining nine cases came from nine different states: Wisconsin, South Dakota, North Carolina, New Jersey, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa and Illinois. The cases, which ranged from December 4, 2015 through February 9th of this year, involved E. coli 0157, known as one of the most – if not the most – virulent strains of the bacteria. The strain often leads to severe hemorrhagic diarrhea, or bloody stools; however, lack of blood does not mean that a person has not been infected with E. coli 0157.
Of the thirteen confirmed outbreak cases, eight – 62% – required hospitalization, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) spokeswoman Brittany Behm. The outbreak was first detected on January 4th, and according to Behm, because the chain took such quick action, the CDC did not feel the need to post an outbreak notice.
As to the exact cause of the outbreak, “it seems like there was a problem with the Skillet Dough,” said Behm, who stated the conclusions had been reached on the basis of interview data. Pizza Ranch voluntarily stopped using the dough, she continued, and no one had fallen ill since.
Pizza Ranch has also played a role in the investigation, as Ryan Achterhoff, the chain’s chief administrative officer, explained:
Since late January, we have been assisting public health officials who are investigating 13 cases of illness attributed to a specific strain of E. coli O157 bacteria.
We removed our Skillet Dough mix immediately from use in response to information suggesting that this product was a possible common factor in the illnesses and subsequently expanded this product withdrawal to include our Original Dough mix.
The fact pattern shows that the source of bacteria originated from an outside supplier rather than at our restaurants. Several states collected products from Pizza Ranch restaurant locations to test for the presence of E.coli O157 though it was not found in any products tested. Pizza Ranch independently ran over 40 tests on different products to test for the presence of E. coli O157 and it was not found in any products tested. We provided public health investigators with a list of all of our ingredients as well as contact information for our ingredient suppliers. We also contacted the supplier of our dough mixes regarding this issue with the request that they cooperate with state and federal health officials.
According to Iowa state epidemiologist Patricia Quinlisk, tests run by the Iowa Department of Public Health did not turn up positive results for E. coli.
All Pizza Ranch locations cleaned all surfaces and equipment used for preparation of dough, and the business has severed ties with the vendor that supplied the restaurants with dough at the time of the outbreak.
“The outbreak is over,” Behm said.
Those affected, however, are still feeling the impact. Call Ron Simon at 1-888–335-4901 – the experience of a hemolytic uremic syndrome lawyer.