May 2004

Warren King, Seattle Times medical reporter, reported today that tainted almonds have sicken four Washington residents, including a mother and her two children in Kennewick and a Seattle man. Health authorities said recent investigations showed they suffered acute intestinal illness stemming from the almonds. Their cases were among two dozen reports of the illness in 10 states.

Some 13 million pounds of the nuts supplied by Paramount Farms of California and packaged under a variety of brands have been recalled.

Investigators have found no trace of salmonella in any of the recalled almonds or at Paramount, investigators say, and it’s possible the outbreak’s source may never be found.

Scott and Shawna Morris, of Kennewick, this week filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Spokane against Paramount. Their Seattle-based attorney, Bill Marler, said Shawna Morris and her 3-year-old daughter, Crew, contracted the illness from eating the nuts in February. The couple’s 1-year-old son, Brek, then became ill from contact with his mother and sister. Marler said Shawna Morris was hospitalized for two days with the illness, salmonella enteritis, which can cause headache, abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and dehydration.

A man in his 50s was very ill in November from eating the tainted almonds, said Matias Valenzuela, a spokesman for Public Health Seattle & King County. Officials would not reveal other details for privacy reasons.

Authorities said all of the Washington cases stemmed from eating almonds sold at Costco under the Kirkland Signature brand. Costco has mailed about 1.2 million letters to members worldwide about the recall. The recalled almonds were in packages with “best (used) by” dates from Aug. 21, 2004, through March 15, 2005.

The recall has expanded to more companies and additional “best by” dates since the initial announcement of the tainted raw almonds on May 18. Besides Kirkland Signature, other brands and stores affected in Washington state include:

Trader Joe’s and Sunkist brands Aug. 24, 2004, through May 20, 2005.

Gold Shield brand 2.5-ounce bags: Lot 4049, best used by February 2005; Lot 4120, best used by April 2005; and Lot 4139, best used by May 2005. Eight-ounce bags: Lot 3294, best used by October 2004; and Lot 3321, best used by November 2004.

As Bee Staff Writer Mike Lee reported today, the FDA says more outlets are likely affected by the Kern County product. My firm filed suit Monday against Paramount Foods, whose raw almonds are the target of a greatly expanded product recall.

“More labels and more (brand) names will be coming out,” said Jack Guzewich, director of emergency response in FDA’s food-safety division. “It’s not done yet.”

The FDA has tentatively linked 18 cases of food poisoning to raw almonds from Paramount Farms of Lost Hills in Kern County, the state’s largest almond grower. Potentially related illnesses still are being investigated.

Over the weekend, Paramount expanded its recall to 13 million pounds from 5 million pounds. It also said that it immediately would start pasteurizing all almonds before they are shipped.

“There have been prior incidences of salmonella-tainted almonds that have led to illnesses and recalls,” said William Marler, attorney for the family, in a statement. “Paramount Farms should have known this and taken appropriate precautions to make sure it didn’t happen again.”

From today’s Business Wire, Marler Clark is Suing Paramount Farms Over Salmonella-tainted Almonds. My firm filed a lawsuit against California-based almond producer, Paramount Farms on behalf of the Morris family of Kennewick, Washington, three of whom became seriously ill and required hospitalization after eating Salmonella-tainted raw California almonds produced by Paramount Farms and sold by Costco. The almonds were purchased in January 2004. At least 18 people, and likely more, have suffered Salmonella infection linked to the consumption of raw California almonds produced by Paramount Farms and sold under the Kirkland Signature, Trader Joe’s, and Sunkist brands.

“There have been prior incidences of Salmonella-tainted almonds that have led to illnesses and recalls,” said William Marler, attorney for the family. “Paramount Farms should have known this and taken appropriate precautions to make sure it didn’t happen again.”

In April 2001 the Canadian Food Inspection Agency warned the public not to consume California raw whole almonds after 140 people became ill with Salmonella infection.

“Eighteen people have become ill with Salmonella infection so far during this outbreak. I would be willing to speculate that the number of illnesses related to this outbreak will continue to rise,” Marler added.

Salmonella bacteria cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy persons infected with Salmonella often experience fever, diarrhea (which may be bloody), nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. In rare circumstances, Salmonella can enter the bloodstream and can lead to arterial infections such as infected aneurysms, endocarditis, and arthritis. See also www.about-salmonella.com, www.foodborneillness.com, and www.salmonellablog.com.

Dean Hare of University Wire has reported that Washington State U. Regents have hired a new president. Rafael Stone was confirmed as new president of the Washington State University Board of Regents on May 7. Elizabeth A. Cowles was named vice president. I served as president in 2003-4, after being reappointed by Governor Gary Locke in 2003, and will serve on the board until 2009.

Stone said one major disappointment arising from his time on the Board of Regents is salaries for faculty. “We are constantly trying to push this in Olympia,” Stone said.
Marler said the most important issue he dealt with last year was signing President V. Lane Rawlins to a new contract.

As Catherine Toolson’s University Wire story Washington State U. faculty react to pay raise reports, the Washington State University Board of Regents approved a large salary increase for President V. Lane Rawlins on May 7. Rawlins currently earns a base wage of $254,065 per year. Beginning June 1, his base salary will be upped to $300,000 per year.

The board wished to keep Rawlins’ salary competitive with the presidents of comparable institutions, said Board of Regents President William Marler. Marler credits Rawlins for building an administrative structure that has held together despite decreasing state support and tremendous fiscal pressure.

“That was important, as he’s one of our best assets,” Marler said. “He’s one of the best presidents in the country. What we are paying him is still a bargain.”

Some WSU faculty members question the timing and amount of the pay raise, but the Board of Regents members were adamant about instituting the salary increase.

“I feel that the raise is justified if you look at what my peers are making, but I am concerned that most staff and faculty have received very little,” Rawlins said. “I have expressed this concern to the regents and the legislature. I am uncomfortable receiving such an increase at a time when most of our employees are not, and I have expressed this feeling several times. On two occasions I turned down raises. This time, the regents were more insistent.”