June 2004

A piece of legislation called the California Safe Schools Lunch Act (AB 1988) was recently passed by the State Assembly and now awaits action by the State Senate. Unfortunately, its positive-sounding title might not satisfy the State’s own truth-in-labeling laws. The Bill’s passage and the passage of similar laws around the country could put school children at greater risk, not less, from the dangers of foodborne illness.

As originally drafted, the Bill restricted the State’s Department of Education from ordering irradiated ground beef from the USDA’s National School Lunch Program, an option that school districts have available for the first time in 2004. In its present form, it makes this additional food safety measure more difficult and expensive, at a time local school districts are financially strained. In some cities, like San Francisco, Berkeley and Washington, DC, local school boards have succumbed to pressure from irradiation opponents and voted outright bans on serving irradiated foods in cafeterias.

The problem is this: an estimated 73,000 people, many children, get E. coli infection every year and 61 die from it. The GAO found that between 1990 and 1999, 195 outbreaks of foodborne illnesses occurred in our schools, sickening thousands of children. I currently represent children who were made ill with E. coli O157:H7 infections after eating contaminated lettuce served at Eastern Washington University, a school in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and schools in San Diego and Orange Counties. In the past, I represented children made ill after eating contaminated ground beef in Washington state and Georgia. The list goes on, and E. coli is not the only pathogen making our children sick.

Continue Reading Irradiating Foods – One More Step to Preventing Illness in Our Schools

As the Associated Press’ article Kennewick family sues almond producer reported today, a Kennewick family has sued California-based almond producer Paramount Farms, alleging the mother and two young children were sickened by salmonella-tainted almonds. Shawnna Morris and her two young children got sick in February after she purchased a package of raw almonds, produced by Paramount, at a store in Kennewick, in southeast Washington. All three were diagnosed with salmonella enteritidis.

Both Shawnna Morris and her 3-year-old daughter ate the nuts, said lawyer Bill Marler of Seattle. He alleges the family’s 1-year-old son became ill from contact with his mother and sister.

Federal regulators have received reports of 25 people falling ill, most likely from raw almonds supplied by Paramount. The company has voluntarily recalled 13 million pounds of raw almonds nationwide, and the size of the recall appeared likely to grow as federal investigators continue to identify distributors and repackagers of almonds that originated from Paramount.

The recall covers millions of packages sold under a variety of brand names across the country, as well as almonds shipped to eight countries. The FDA has received reports of salmonella enteritidis in at least six states so far. No fatalities have been reported.

Young children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems are especially vulnerable to infection from salmonella. Symptoms include fever, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal pain.

Salmonella in almonds is rare. This is only the second reported outbreak. So far, investigators have found no trace of salmonella in any of the recalled almonds or at Paramount. Experts say it is possible the outbreak may never be traced to its source.