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Tainted Cucumbers from Mexico Responsible for Three Deaths and More than 500 Illnesses

Sep 30, 2015

A salmonella outbreak that has killed three people and sickened more than 500 has been traced to cucumbers from Mexico distributed by a San Diego food distributor.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 558 cases of salmonella poona in 33 states are linked to the cucumbers. One hundred forty new cases were reported between September 15 and September 22, according to Vice News ( and officials say the number of illnesses is likely to rise as more health departments release numbers.

Salmonella symptoms generally emerge 12 to 72 hours after the individual consumes tainted food. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps. The illness usually lasts from four to seven days and most people recover without treatment. For some people, though, diarrhea may be so severe that they require hospitalization. The bacteria can spread from the intestines to the blood stream and to other parts of the body. When this happens, salmonella can result in death if the person does not receive antibiotics. Infants and children, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems are most likely to become seriously ill.

Some of those who became ill in this outbreak have filed lawsuits. Among them is a 46-year-old Arizona woman who was sent to the emergency room for treatment. She suffered a 102-degree fever, night sweats, chills, and headaches. Though she received antibiotics, her gastrointestinal symptoms lasted nearly a month, Vice News reports. The parents of a five-year-old boy also filed a lawsuit. Their son became ill after eating tainted cucumbers. Initially, he had diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach pain, but the infection reached his urinary tract. He suffered pain and passed blood clots when he tried to urinate, according to the lawsuit.

Investigators traced the outbreak to the San Diego food distributor Andrew & Williamson Sales Co., which imported the cucumbers from Rancho Don Juanito de R.L. de C.V. in Baja, Mexico, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). On September 4, A&W recalled all cucumbers labeled "Limited Edition." The cucumbers were sold in supermarkets and were distributed to restaurants.

In 1997, Andrew & Williamson was involved in another foodborne illness outbreak. The company admitted to supplying frozen strawberries tainted with hepatitis to schools. In that outbreak, 197 students and teachers in three states became ill, prompting a federal probe, according to Vice News. A&W acknowledged its role in the fraudulent sale of nearly two million pounds of frozen strawberries grown in Mexico to the government’s school lunch program. The company hid the fact that the berries were not grown in the U.S. The company paid $1.3 million to the government as part of a 1997 civil settlement, and Frederick Williamson, then A&W's president, served five months in prison.

A&W partner David Murray told Vice News that A&W “is a different company than it was in the 1990s, and we learned a great deal from that experience.” He said customers could visit A&W’s facility any time to witness the company’s food safety practices. A&W has announced a donation to the nonprofit group STOP Foodborne Illness for an educational packet to improve diagnosis at pediatric emergency rooms and hospitals.

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