Tallulah's Restaurant Salmonella Outbreak LawsuitIn June 2015 local and state public health officials in Seattle, Washington investigated a foodborne illness outbreak among customers of Tallulah’s, a restaurant located in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle. On June 25 Public Health Seattle King County (PHSKC) was notified of cluster of case patients diagnosed with Salmonella Enteritidis. Preliminary interviews with ill individuals implicated a crab hollandaise dish consumed at Tallulah’s on June 21 as the contaminated menu item. Washington Department of Health (WDOH) and Washington Department of Agriculture (WSDA) joined the outbreak investigation team.
The restaurant submitted a sample of crab meat from an open container to IEH Laboratories for microbiological testing. The sample tested positive for Salmonella. Genetic testing by Pulsed Field Gel Electrophoresis (PFGE) confirmed that the strain of Salmonella isolated in the crab sample was indistinguishable to the strain of Salmonella isolated in patients. The refrigerated, canned crab product was distributed by JEB Corfini Gourmet, a licensed distributor based in Seattle.
Investigators learned, however, that at least three ill persons consumed “ham benedict” and not crab benedict. Restaurant staff reported that the spoon used to spread hollandaise sauce on the benedict base layer could have also been used to scoop crab from the tub. Cross contamination between the hollandaise sauce and crab could explain the positive test result of leftover crab. PHSKC Environmental Health Specialists were told that normally Tallaluh’s uses liquid pasteurized egg yolk product in the hollandaise sauce but that on June 21 they used shell eggs instead. WSDA staff conducted a traceback of the eggs used at the restaurant. The eggs were distributed by JEB Corfini Gourmet and sourced by Wilcox Farms. Original packaging of the eggs used on June 21 was no longer available. WSDA Food Safety Program staff conducted an investigation at JEB Corfini Gourmet on July 7 and collected cooler temperatures from the egg storage locations. Cooler temperatures were within specification. WSDA notified Wilcox of the outbreak. WSDA visited Wilcox Farms on July 8. The producer routinely tests liquid and hardboiled eggs, but not raw shell eggs. Environmental sampling for Salmonella is routinely conducted in the hen houses. Wilcox Farms reported no recent positive results had been obtained from product or environmental sampling.
In total, 22 persons became ill as a result of eating at Tallulah’s. Thirteen people were laboratory confirmed with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Enteritidis. Nine people were described as “probable” outbreak cases. Twenty of the 22 cases were considered to be “primary” cases. Two were secondary cases. One secondary case was laboratory confirmed with the outbreak strain of Salmonella.
Dates of illness onset ranged from June 22 to June 29. Four people were hospitalized; 5 sought care in the emergency department, and 2 visited a health care provider. PHSKC concluded that the outbreak was attributed to use of unpasteurized egg product in an ingredient that was insufficiently heated during initial cooking.
Marler Clark represented the Conahey family that was affected by the outbreak, achieving a settlement for them covering their medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.