Elizabeth Buder was among 13 people sickened in August and September after eating food from the Los Chilangos food truck operated by Menendez Brothers, LLC of Bellevue. The firm, which operates two food trucks that serve seven farmers markets in King and Snohomish counties, was shuttered temporarily in late August by officials at Public Health — Seattle & King County — after an investigation into the outbreak.
A complaint filed this month in King County Superior Court states that the child, known as “Scout,” shared food with her parents from a Los Chilangos truck on Aug. 8 at the Issaquah Farmer’s Market. She fell ill days later and was eventually admitted to Seattle Children’s, where doctors confirmed an E. coli O157: H7 infection according to the complaint prepared by Marler Clark, a Seattle firm that specializes in food-safety cases.
The girl developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, or HUS, a life-threatening complication of E. coli poisoning, and kidney failure. She was hospitalized for three weeks and will require ongoing monitoring and care. She was only recently cleared to return to school, her father said.
King County officials identified no specific source of the E. coli outbreak. The bacteria are often linked to undercooked ground beef, but can be spread through produce such as spinach and sprouts or through foods such as unpasteurized juice and raw milk.
Los Chilangos was allowed to reopen on Sept. 2 after an inspection. King County officials also shuttered Eastside Commercial Kitchen, a commissary where Los Chilangos and other vendors prepared food, but allowed that site to reopen on Sept. 8. Health officials said it’s possible the source of the outbreak may never be determined.
Elizabeth has been complaining about her tummy non stop. “She’s constantly ‘My tummy. My tummy,'” said her mom, Deanna Buder. “And then she says ‘I want to see my friends. I want to see kids,’ because no kids are allowed in there. She just misses home.”
The Buder family shared a plate of carnitas at a Los Chilangos food truck last August 8. Although the mom and dad were fine, Elizabeth or Scout as people would call her, started complaining of stomach ache days later. “Normal things that a kid might get, a tummy ache, she was a little tired, she wasn’t hungry,” said Buder. However, Scout’s conditions became worse as her body released some bloody diarrhea. A trip to the emergency room confirmed the parents’ worst nightmare, as Scout’s kidney deteriorates and she has to stay in the Intensive Care Unit.
Scout is just one of the six — now 10 — confirmed positive of a dangerous strain of E.coli O157, all linked to Los Chilangos. Los Chilangos’ Bellevue and other locations were closed last Wednesday by the Public Health department. Los Chilangos serves food at seven farmers markets in King and Snohomish Counties, operates two food trucks, and also caters events. However, they were able to secure an approval to reopen on Thursday. None of the employees were positive of the disease and investigators still have not found the source of the infection.
The Buder family would like to seek more justice beyond the shutting down of the kitchen and the food truck. “”There should be consequences beyond shutting down the kitchen for a few days,” said Buder. “People need to be aware of what to look for, and then after that be aware that you shouldn’t go to this business,” she said.
All little Elizabeth Buder knows is that she’s in the hospital with a painful tummy ache, but the 4-year-old’s parents know the strain of E. coli she has can be deadly.
“There’s not just IV tubes in her arms, but in her neck,” said Elizabeth’s dad, James Buder. “How do you explain that to a 4-year old?”
Health officials believe Scout, as she likes to be called, contracted E. coli after eating steak tacos with pico de gallo at the Issaquah Farmers Market on August 8th. She ate at a food stand run by Los Chilangos food truck catering.
The owner, Noemi Mendez, is cooperating with the investigation.
“I feel horrible,” she said. “And I apologize. I feel like, you know, it’s my responsibility, but also I don’t feel like I’m to blame here.”
Mendez said the Heath Department told her E. coli may have come from cilantro, which she uses in all her food and gets from several different suppliers.
“They can’t be certain, because now they have to go through every suppler that I get the cilantro from and find out what happened there,” Mendez said.
“Through a few initial interviews with ill people, we determined that everyone who became sick had something in common – they ate food prepared by, a local food vendor called Los Chilangos,” Public Health staff said in a statement.
The department required the food truck to stop selling food.
A 4-year-old girl is one of those affected, and her mother said her daughter became sick after eating at Los Chilangos around August 8.
The food truck visited the Issaquah and Sammamish farmers markets.
Deanna Buder said her 4-year-old daughter started experiencing pain and swelling in her abdomen, and stopped eating. Tuesday is her seventh day at Seattle Children’s Hospital.
Los Chilangos serves food at seven farmers markets in King and Snohomish counties, operates two food trucks, and also caters events. Los Chilangos uses Eastside Commercial Kitchen, where they share space and equipment with about a dozen other food businesses.
The kitchen was told to stop producing food, as were the food trucks that used it.
“We are still investigating the source of the E. coli,” the Public Health statement said. “If we determine that a food contained the E. coli bacteria, we will try to trace it back to stores, suppliers, and even farms to address the root of the problem with corrective actions, if possible.”
King County Public Health released the key steps of their investigation:
We [King Co. Public Health] interviewed people who got sick.
“At this time [Tuesday afternoon], six people have been infected with the same strain of E. coli (three have been hospitalized). When Public Health determines that anyone is sick from a serious foodborne illness like E. coli, we [King Co. Public Health] interview them to determine what may have caused their illness. We [King Co. Public Health] do this to find the source of the outbreak and prevent others from getting infected. In this instance, through a few initial interviews with ill people, we [King Co. Public Health] determined that everyone who became sick had something in common – they ate food prepared by a local food vendor called Los Chilangos. Public Health took swift action and required Los Chilangos to cease operations.”
We [King Co. Public Health] investigated a food business that was associated with the people who got sick.
“But we [King Co. Public Health] didn’t stop there. Los Chilangos serves food at seven farmers markets in King and Snohomish Counties, operates two food trucks, and also caters events. Los Chilangos utilizes a shared kitchen space, called a commissary kitchen. The kitchen that they use is Eastside Commercial Kitchen, where they share space and equipment with about a dozen other food businesses.”
We [King Co. Public Health] intervened at the specific site and operation.
“The condition of the commissary and the potential for cross contamination were deemed an imminent health hazard, and the health officer issued a cease and desist order to the commissary on Thursday, August 27. Additionally, all of the food vendors permitted by Public Health that use this kitchen were also told to cease operations. Recognizing that this lapse in operation hurts business, our team has worked diligently with these vendors to find new places for them to resume their work and remind them about important food safety measures.”
Next steps: tracing the source
“As of today, the investigation isn’t over. We [King Co. Public Health] are still investigating the source of the E. coli. If we determine that a food contained the E. coli bacteria, we will try to trace it back to stores, suppliers, and even farms to address the root of the problem with corrective actions, if possible.
But, it’s possible that the source of E. coli may never be determined. E coli is often linked to beef, but it can also be linked to produce, such as spinach and sprouts, along with a variety of other foods such as unpasteurized juices, raw milk, game meats, and other common foods.
For outbreaks such as this one, we [King Co. Public Health] continue to monitor the situation and look for other common factors among ill people. While we know Los Chilangos is linked, they may not be the only ones involved. For instance, the source of E. coli could be served by other vendors.
We [King Co. Public Health] are currently working with all of the businesses connected to this outbreak to make sure that they are not using any products that may have become contaminated and that they have food safety measures in place. This includes having the businesses address needed repairs to their equipment, providing education to their staff, and ensuring their operations are safe to open.
Though Los Chilangos has been linked to this outbreak, they deserve credit for their dutiful cooperation during our investigation. No food vendor wants to make people sick, and we know everyone is very concerned about the people who have become ill. We will be updating this blog as the picture becomes clearer.”