Rising food-safety danger puts restaurants on defense

shigella bacteria

The Mariscos San Juan restaurant in Santa Jose, Calif., was forced to close and summon its lawyers after 80 customers from the past weekend were sickened by what authorities suspect is Shigella bacteria. The breadth and severity of the contamination (12 of the afflicted are in intensive care) drew national headlines, but the seafood restaurant is hardly the only dining place countrywide to be contending with shigellosis outbreaks in their area.

For reasons that public-safety experts have yet to nail, the summer and fall have brought a rash of contaminations from the bacteria. Officials in Kansas City, Mo., issued a public health warning after the rate of contamination soared to 15 times the norm. About 134 people were stricken since July alone; the city usually sees 10 cases in a whole year.

Spikes in the number of people sickened by the food-borne pathogen have also been reported in Lubbock, Texas; Independence, Mo.; Jefferson County, Ohio; and western Iowa.

Authorities say they are particularly concerned because the strains being detected are immune to the antibiotics typically used to kill Shigella.

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