SEATTLE -- Washington state health officials think there was widespread contamination in 280,000 hamburger patties that were confiscated at Jack in the Box restaurants and the chain's Tukwila, Wash., warehouse after health officials linked the fast-food chain with an epidemic of food poisoning.
That suggests that the outbreak, which has sickened nearly 400 people and killed two children, could have been much worse if health officials had not acted quickly to identify the source of the bacteria and seized the tainted meat.
Of the 400,000 patties in which contamination was suspected, 120,000 had already been served when the outbreak was reported.
The confiscated meat is being held by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and burgers being served by the chain are assumed to be safe.
Dr. John Kobayashi, the state epidemiologist who heads the investigation, said the 280,000 patties were taken from Jack in the Box restaurants and the warehouse after the outbreak became known. Samples tested were contaminated, leading officials to believe that all were tainted.
"It's not to say every burger would have resulted in one infected child," Dr. Kobayashi said, "but even if one in 10 had been infected, the numbers would have been very large."