In 2010, 41 patients ill with Escherichia coli O157:H7 isolates determined to be indistinguishable by pulsed-field gel electrophoresis were identified among residents of five Southwestern U.S. states. A majority of patients reported consuming complimentary samples of aged raw-milk Gouda cheese at national warehouse chain store locations; sampling Gouda cheese was significantly associated with illness (odds ratio, 9.0; 95% confidence interval, 1.7 to 47). Several Gouda samples yielded the O157:H7 outbreak strain, confirming the food vehicle and source of infections. Implicated retail food-sampling operations were inconsistently regulated among affected states, and sanitation deficiencies were common among sampling venues. Inspection of the cheese manufacturer indicated deficient sanitation practices and insufficient cheese curing times. Policymakers should continue to reexamine the adequacy and enforcement of existing rules intended to ensure the safety of raw-milk cheeses and retail food sampling. Additional research is necessary to clarify the food safety hazards posed to patrons who consume free food samples while shopping.
†The findings and conclusions in this report are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or other institutions with which authors are affiliated.