Investigating outbreaks of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) in England is a priority due to the potential severity of disease. However, there are often challenges in investigating outbreaks due to the small numbers of cases, poor patient recall, and low levels of bacteria that are challenging to detect in food samples using traditional laboratory culture techniques, and frequently a source is not identified. In September 2014, we investigated an STEC O157 outbreak associated with consuming a slaw garnish, and we report our findings here. Twenty confirmed cases were identified. Outbreak cases were interviewed, and menus reviewed to identify dishes consumed outside the home. Cases shared a history of eating meals at different chain restaurants. Analysis of menu items indicated shared consumption of slaw garnishes by 85.6% cases, although just 35.7% reported consuming them during interviews. Whole-genome sequencing linked cases where interpretation of the multilocus variable number tandem repeat analysis profile was obscured and indicated that the strain originated from a domestic (i.e., United Kingdom) source. Traceback identified that carrots and cabbages grown in the United Kingdom were the likely source of infection. Samples of products were examined, but STEC was not recovered. Epidemiological investigations linked the outbreak to consumption of a slaw garnish, which was poorly recalled by cases, and likely comprised of domestically produced raw vegetables. The causative organism was not isolated from food samples, and we conclude that future investigations should include sampling of animals and wildlife in the vicinity of farms where implicated produce is grown.
- Foodborne disease
- Infectious disease
- Shiga toxigenic Escherichia coli