E. coli outbreak successfully traced through credit cards
An outbreak of E. coli in Danish children was traced back to beef sausages using credit card receipts.
The journal Clinical Infectious Diseases has published a novel approach to tracing the source of an outbreak of E. coli: credit cards. Between February and May of 2007, officials at the Danish Statens Serum Institut in Copenhagen identified 20 cases of shiga toxin-producing E. coli infection in several families. All but two of the cases occurred in very young children.
Investigators’ initial interviews with the parents of the children didn’t yield any likely food suspects so they decided to look at their recent shopping lists.
Parents in seven families provided their credit card information and a list of supermarkets where they had shopped. The two supermarket chains that the parents had used most often agreed to help with the investigation. The stores searched their central computers for the precise amount paid and the date and the location of the shop.
From there, investigators determined that five families had purchased the same brand of fermented, organic beef sausage. A sixth family was linked to the same sausage brand through shopping records provided by the kindergarten attended by two children who became infected with the same E. coli strain, STEC O26. An unopened sample of the sausage also tested positive for the strain.
“This information proved to be a strong tool in the investigation, and most likely, the source of the outbreak would not have been found without the use of this method,” wrote the researchers.
All of the infected patients recovered.
Clinical Infectious Diseases 2009;48:e78–e81 DOI: 10.1086/597502