Report Suggests Truffle Oil Caused Fig & Olive Salmonella Cases

159 people contracted Salmonella from eating at a restaurant in DC. Health officials are blaming truffle oil.

The Fig & Olive restaurant in New York's Meatpacking District
By Michelle Smith
Mar. 23, 2017 13:00 UTC
The Fig & Olive restaurant in New York's Meatpacking District

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believe truf­fle oil was the cul­prit in a Salmonella out­break that sick­ened 159 peo­ple who ate at a Washington DC restau­rant.

Although the CDC did­n’t name the restau­rant, details in their report sug­gest it’s Fig & Olive, a French-inspired chain that spe­cial­izes in prepar­ing dishes with olive oil. The com­pany has loca­tions in both cities cited in the CDC report. And, the Fig & Olive was slapped with law­suits for Salmonella infec­tions that occurred dur­ing the period dis­cussed.

The infec­tions at the DC restau­rant could­n’t con­clu­sively be linked to a sin­gle food, but evi­dence strongly sug­gested that truf­fle oil was the likely source of the out­break,” the CDC said. Among that evi­dence was the fact that 89 per­cent of those infected ate foods con­tain­ing truf­fle oil. One of those cases was an employee who ate a truf­fle oil-con­tain­ing item that was­n’t offered on the menu.

The prospect of an out­break started com­ing to the fore on September 8, 2015 when the DC Department of Health received two alarm­ing phone calls. First, a cus­tomer reported get­ting sick after eat­ing at a restau­rant. Then, emer­gency room per­son­nel reported four addi­tional cases of food­borne ill­ness that arose after peo­ple ate at that restau­rant.

The DCDOH imme­di­ately began inves­ti­gat­ing the mat­ter, and out of con­cern, sus­pended the restau­ran­t’s license from September 10 – 15. During this time, author­i­ties had closed the Fig & Olive in DC and it did­n’t reopen until after the DCDOH approved its Risk Control Plan, the Washington Post reported.

Based on infor­ma­tion pro­vided by patrons, DCDOH deemed six foods as sig­nif­i­cantly asso­ci­ated” with the infec­tions. Three of them – beef carpac­cio, truf­fle mush­room cro­quette, and truf­fle risotto – con­tained truf­fle oil. Authorities col­lected a vari­ety of food sam­ples from the restau­rant, and lab­o­ra­tory test­ing revealed the truf­fle fries were pos­i­tive for Salmonella, said the CDC.

After the DCDOH issued a nation­wide call for infor­ma­tion about poten­tial infec­tions, they dis­cov­ered that infec­tions linked to the DC restau­rant extended to 11 states, likely because many peo­ple were vis­it­ing the city dur­ing Labor Day week­end. Moreover, Los Angeles health offi­cials reached out to report that they were deal­ing with a sim­i­lar prob­lem at the same restau­rant in their juris­dic­tion.

Cases of Salmonella were appear­ing at the Fig & Olive in West Hollywood, accord­ing to a LA Times arti­cle pub­lished on September 29, 2015. Furthermore, it revealed the com­pany removed items con­tain­ing truf­fle oil from the menu in LA and DC.

With infec­tions pop­ping up on both coasts, the Food and Drug Administration and state author­i­ties went to inves­ti­gate a com­mis­sary in NY that sup­plied the Washington and LA restau­rants. But they were unable to col­lect sam­ples because the facil­ity was closed down. It ceased oper­a­tions less than a week after DC health offi­cials started receiv­ing reports about the Salmonella infec­tions.

When the Washington Post ques­tioned Fig & Olive’s pres­i­dent, Gary Galy, about the sud­den clos­ing of their New York facil­ity he admit­ted they accel­er­ated the clos­ing” of their com­mis­sary. But, he said it was because the facil­ity was in fact, not nec­es­sary any­more.” According to Galy, the com­pany had hired a new cor­po­rate chef who stream­lined the pro­duc­tion process so each restau­rant could make all items in-house.

It seems a bit more than a coin­ci­dence that the same restau­rant is hav­ing sal­mo­nella issues on each coast,” food safety attor­ney Bill Marler told the LA Times in a September 2015. It cer­tainly raises the specter that there may well be a com­mon ingre­di­ent that is caus­ing this bi-coastal prob­lem,” Marler added.

Authorities are now com­fort­able con­clud­ing that the com­mon ingre­di­ent in the DC Salmonella out­break was truf­fle oil. The CDC also added that if it was­n’t for such a timely pub­lic health response more peo­ple would have likely been infected.


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