By: Candess Zona-Mendola and Jory D. Lange, Jr.

Two Burger King restaurants closed in Bemidji, Minnesota, after having been linked to a salmonella outbreak.  The Minnesota Department of Health reports 27 confirmed cases and 4 probable cases of people infected with salmonella food poisoning after eating at these Burger King locations. Because most salmonella cases go unreported, additional illnesses are expected.

The restaurants are located at 1000 Paul Bunyan Drive S.W. and 2575 Hannah Ave. N.W. in Bemidji, Minnesota. Both of Bemidji’s two Burger Kings have temporarily closed while they are being decontaminated, before they will be cleared to reopen to the public. According to the Star Tribune, both restaurants are expected to reopen to the public later this week.

Salmonellosis Symptoms

Salmonella infections can cause Salmonellosis.  Salmonellosis symptoms can include: diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps.  Symptoms typically start 12 to 72 hours after eating a food product contaminated with salmonella.  Most illnesses last 4 to 7 days.  However, severe cases can lead to hospitalization or worse.  If you live in Bemidji, Minnesota and notice any symptoms of Salmonella infection, you are urged to get checked out by a physician as soon as possible.

According to the CDC, the elderly, infants, and people with impaired immune systems are especially likely to develop severe salmonella infections.  Because salmonella bacteria can be spread from person to person, it is important to engage in good sanitation practices, like thorough handwashing.

The Salmonella Outbreak

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH)’s investigation confirmed 27 salmonella cases and 4 probable salmonella cases linked to these two Burger King locations.  However, as most cases of Salmonella food poisoning go unreported, it is likely that additional people have also become ill. The MDH continues to investigate the probable sources of the contamination.

Bemidji’s two Burger Kings appear to be the only restaurants affected by the outbreak.  Health officials report that there is no evidence to indicate there’s an ongoing issue with a particular type of food item or produce.  The Minnesota Department of Health’s spokesperson, Doug Shultz, reported that “we do clearly have evidence of food worker illness being part of the problem.”

Minnesota Department of Health investigators linked Bemidji’s two Burger Kings as a result of their epidemiologic investigation.  As sources of Salmonella can be difficult to find due to the frequency of the illness, the health agency used interviewing techniques to find the source of the infections. When two or more people get sick by the same illness that they acquire from the same contaminated source, they are said to be a part of an outbreak. After seeing multiple people contract salmonella infections after eating at the Burger Kings, investigators were able to link these two Burger King restaurants to this salmonella outbreak.

What We Know

According to the Minnesota Department of Health’s spokesman, Doug Schultz, most of the salmonella infections were identified in September.  After the initial salmonella infections, the Burger Kings were closed for cleaning.  But additional cases have recently been identified in people who ate at the restaurants after the September cleaning. This week alone, two additional cases were identified.  This is what led the restaurants’ closing, again, for additional decontamination. According to Mr. Schultz,

“They may have been sick a couple weeks or so before then. It takes a while before people get symptoms, and then they’re sick enough to go to the doctor, and then we identify. Most of the time that does the trick; 98 percent of the time we don’t see further transmission. In this case we had two additional illnesses pop up this week.”

Before the restaurants can reopen, each employee must have two negative Salmonellosis tests.  Details provided by the Minnesota Department of Public Health indicate that no specific food item or person has been identified as the root cause.  But Mr. Shultz commented “we do clearly have evidence of food worker illness being part of the problem.” According to Mr. Schultz, “some of the extreme measures we’re taking are that all of their employees need to test negative for salmonella [twice], not sooner than 24 hours apart. Once that’s done, we can do additional cleaning and they can open again.”

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, Bemidji’s Burger Kings are being cleaned and sanitized again. The health agency is hopeful that the shut down and cleaning will stop future transmission of bacteria. With an unidentified source, the agency is further hopeful that the strict interventions will be the end to the outbreak.


Salmonella Info and What to do if You are Sick

This outbreak is unusual, because fast-food restaurants are rarely the source of salmonella outbreaks. Live poultry, reptiles and amphibians, raw eggs, raw meats, and ready-to-eat foods – such as salads, fruits, and produce – are more common sources of salmonella outbreaks. Regardless of the source, salmonella is one of the most common foodborne illnesses. According to the CDC, more than 1.2 million Americans contract salmonella infections each year.

If you or someone in your family recently ate at Burger King in Beltrami, Minnesota and became ill with the symptoms of Salmonellosis, medical attention is recommended. A physician will likely order a stool test to determine if the illness is Salmonella.

Burger King has not made any public statements on the outbreak. The Minnesota Department of Health is doing its best to keep the locales informed on the outbreak and on precautions people can take to prevent the spread of salmonella bacteria.  In particular, Mr. Schultz encouraged food service workers to remember to wash their hands as much as possible.

What are Some Ways to Prevent Salmonella Infection?

The good news is that there are several ways you can protect your loved ones from Salmonella infection. These include:

  • By cooking raw meats, eggs, fish, and poultry to their optimum temperatures.
  • By baking desserts completely.
  • By avoiding raw eggs, meats, and cookie or cake dough.
  • By washing hands after touching live animals, such as reptiles, poultry, or other fowl.
  • By washing hands after handling raw meats.
  • By checking your order from a restaurant to ensure it has been fully cooked.

UnsafeFoods will continue to monitor this outbreak and report on new information as more details unfold.