October 2005

Over a dozen people have become ill with E. coli O157:H7 infections in Oregon and Washington in the last month. The illnesses have now been traced to contaminated parsley consumed in at least two, and possibly more, restaurants. To date no recall has occurred.
William Marler of Marler Clark, the Seattle foodborne illness law firm, has been contacted by individuals sickened in this current outbreak, and hundreds of individuals sickened in other produce-related outbreaks in the past, including the recent E. coli O157:H7 outbreak tied to DOLE Lettuce.
“Over the last few years, the United States has been hit hard by contaminated produce. Just in the last years there has been a Hepatitis A outbreak linked to green onions, a Salmonella outbreak linked to tomatoes and several E. coli outbreaks tied to contaminated lettuce. The lesson is that all restaurants need to know where their fresh produce is coming from, and be careful to make sure that their suppliers are taking proper precautions to ensure the safety of the product,” said Marler.
“However, this is not the first time that Parsley specifically has been implicated in a bacterial outbreak,” added Marler. In 1998, according to the CDC, hundreds were sickened in California, Minnesota, Massachusetts and Canada after eating contaminated parsley.

As Dania Akkad of the Herald Salinas Bureau reported today, legal action is mounting in connection to a recent E. coli outbreak that affected at least 17 people who said they became sick after eating Dole Fresh Vegetable bagged salads.
From the article:

A lawsuit has been filed against parent company Dole Food Company Inc. on behalf of a Minnesota couple sickened last month after eating bagged salads from the company made with Salinas Valley produce.
Another lawsuit, involving an elderly Oregon woman who was hospitalized for five days after eating Dole salad with the same use-by date as the plaintiffs in Minnesota, was expected to be filed today, said Bill Marler, an attorney with Marler Clark law firm in Seattle.

Continue Reading Dole sued for outbreak

Marler Clark, the Seattle law firm that has represented thousands of victims of E. coli poisoning, has learned that the Deschutes County Public Health Department is investigating the source of an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak that originated at McGrath’s Fish House in Bend. Two cases have been confirmed by the health department, and at least 18 other people presented with symptoms of E. coli infection, but their illnesses have not yet been confirmed. Health officials are interviewing patrons and food-workers to determine which foods served at the restaurant between October 12 and October 18 were associated with illness.
Recent E. coli outbreaks in other states have been traced to contaminated ground beef and prepackaged lettuce. One Oregon resident has been tied to the Dole lettuce outbreak that has primarily hit Minnesota. “It is important that restaurant operators, in addition to health officials, be aware of the number of E. coli outbreaks and illnesses occurring around the country for possible connections to the Bend outbreak,” said William Marler, managing partner of Marler Clark. (For news on E. coli outbreaks, visit www.ecoliblog.com)
The bacterium, which first became widely known during the 1993 Jack in the Box outbreak that was traced to undercooked hamburgers, has since been linked to products such as apple juice, lettuce, spinach, sprouts, and cantaloupe. (See www.about-ecoli.com)
When ingested, E. coli O157:H7 attaches itself to the inside surface of the large intestine and causes inflammation of the intestinal wall. Symptoms of E. coli infection typically appear within 2-10 days, and include severe stomach cramping, followed by diarrhea, which can become grossly bloody. Children, the elderly, and persons with weakened immune systems are most at-risk for developing E. coli infection and Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome, a complication that can lead to kidney failure (see www.about-hus.com).
“With recent outbreaks generating significant media coverage, restaurant owners and operators should be particularly vigilant in ensuring their suppliers follow accepted food safety practices, and that food-workers are taking the necessary precautions to prevent illness among their patrons,” said William Marler, managing partner of Marler Clark.

In the last month Marler Clark, LLP PS, has been contacted by victims, mostly parents of young children, of E. coli O157:H7. The victims live in Colorado, New York, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Minnesota, Oregon and Washington. The food they consumed is primarily hamburger, but lettuce has also been implicated. Outbreaks of E. coli O157:H7 have also been announced in the last few days in Toledo, Ohio and Seattle, Washington. To borrow from Buffalo Springfield, “Something’s happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear.”

Continue Reading “SOMETHING’S HAPPENING HERE”

Chick Jacobs of The Fayetteville Observer has written an excellent article addressing the E. coli outbreak at North Carolina State Fair’s petting zoo last fall and how this year’s fair will hopefully bring fewer kids to the hospital.
From the article:

The placement was too striking to ignore.
Twenty yards, give or take a turkey leg, away from the North Carolina State Fair’s petting zoo, a concession booth was doing land-office business selling candied apples, cotton candy and other finger-lickin’ products.
Right next door, another booth offered blinking pacifiers.
Fortunately, wedged between the animals and the eats stood a monolithic, none-too-subtle reminder of the illness outbreak that struck more than 100 children at last year’s fair. To get to the goodies, youngsters had to gallop past a stand of portable wash stands, each slathered with a blizzard of reminders to wash hands thoroughly.

Continue Reading State Fair organizers take steps to prevent E. coli outbreaks

William Marler, a nationally-known attorney who has represented the most seriously injured victims of E. coli in the United States, today called on Dole’s corporate leaders “to do the right thing and immediately pay the medical bills and wage loss of those sickened with E. coli in the Dole lettuce outbreak. In many past outbreaks, corporations have stepped up and taken care of the customers they poisoned,” said Marler.
To date, twenty-three people in Minnesota have been sickened with E. coli, eight have been hospitalized, and one child developed HUS — all from eating bagged, “pre-washed” lettuce. According to the FDA, more that 245,000 bags of lettuce may be affected nationwide. An alert and recall has been launched.
On Thursday, Marler filed suit in Minneapolis Federal Court against the Dole Company, Inc., on behalf of Leonard and Carol Tvedten of Fairmont, Minnesota. (Federal Cause No. 05-CV-2404).

The Dole Company, Inc., whose ready-to-eat salads have recently been linked to a large E. coli outbreak and multiple hospitalizations, was named as defendant in a lawsuit filed today by Leonard and Carol Tvedten of Fairmont, Minnesota. (Federal Cause No. 05-CV-2404) William Marler, the nationally-known attorney who has represented victims of large E. coli outbreaks for more than a decade, is the Tvedten’s attorney. Marler’s firm, called Marler Clark, is located in Seattle and has represented Minnesota residents in past outbreaks, including the 2000 SuperValu E. coli outbreak. Jardine, Logan, and O’Brien, a respected Minnesota law firm, also represents the Tvedten’s.
Carol Tvedten fell ill with gastrointestinal symptoms in mid-September after eating Dole brand salad”the pre-washed variety”at home with her husband. Leonard Tvedten also fell ill, but did not require hospitalization. Mrs. Tvedten was admitted at Fairmont Medical Center-Mayo Health System on September 28, where she would remain for over a week. Ultimately, tests confirmed that the strain of E. coli that had infected Carole Tvedten was precisely the same as the strain that health officials cultured from Dole lettuce samples.
The first nationwide health alert to warn the public of the Dole lettuce outbreak was issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on October 2, 2005. The alert stated that certain pre-packaged Dole salad products”Classic Romaine, American Blend, and Greener Selection””have been associated with an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 in Minnesota.” The FDA has since reported that as many as 245,000 bags of Dole lettuce may have been contaminated with the lethal bacteria.
E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks associated with lettuce or spinach, specifically the “pre-washed” and “ready-to-eat” varieties sold under various brand and trade names, are by no means a new phenomenon. In October 2003, 13 residents of a California retirement center were sickened and 2 died after eating E. coli-contaminated “pre-washed” spinach. In September 2003, nearly 40 patrons of a California restaurant chain became ill after eating salads prepared with bagged, “pre-washed” lettuce. In July 2002, over 50 young women were stricken with E. coli at a dance camp after eating “pre-washed” lettuce, leaving several hospitalized, and 1 with life-long kidney damage. The Center for Science in the Public Interest found that of 225 food-poisoning outbreaks from 1990 to 1998, nearly 20 percent (55 outbreaks) were linked to fresh fruits, vegetables or salads.

As the Seattle Times reported today, one person has died and 13 were sickened at a Bellevue assisted-living facility after an outbreak of symptoms that public-health officials say point to E. coli, a potentially deadly food-borne bacterium.
From the article:

The woman who died Thursday night was in her 80s, said Marili Rounds, executive director of the facility, Robinswood Pointe Senior Living Center. Health officials did not identify her.

Continue Reading Bellevue E. coli cases reported

Marler Clark, the Seattle law firm that has represented thousands of victims of E. coli poisoning, has learned that local Seattle health officials are investigating two outbreaks of E. coli O157:H7, the potentially deadly foodborne pathogen that first became widely known during a 1993 outbreak linked to Seattle-area Jack in the Box restaurants. The outbreaks are reportedly linked to a local nursing home and restaurant.
In the last two weeks outbreaks of E. coli have led to recalls ground beef produced in Georgia, and prepackaged lettuce sold in Minnesota, once again reminding us that E. coli is not a bacterium of the past. The bacterium, which lives in the intestines of healthy livestock, can cause a deadly infection in otherwise healthy individuals when it is ingested via contaminated food or water.
When ingested, E. coli O157:H7 attaches itself to the inside surface of the large intestine and causes inflammation of the intestinal wall. Symptoms of E. coli infection typically appear within 2-10 days, and include severe stomach cramping, followed by diarrhea, which can become grossly bloody. Children, the elderly, and persons with weakened immune systems are most at-risk for developing E. coli infection and Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome or Thrombotic Thrombocytopenic Purpura – complications that can lead to kidney failure (see www.about-hus.com and www.about-ttp.com).
“After the Jack in the Box and Odwalla E. coli outbreaks in the 90’s, we decided there was a need to get more information out to the public about this nasty pathogen,” said William Marler, managing partner of Marler Clark. “We set up www.about-ecoli.com – a Web site that provides information about E. coli, its symptoms, risks, prevention, and detection.
Background: William Marler and his legal partners at Marler Clark have extensive experience representing victims of E. coli O157:H7. Marler represented Brianne Kiner in her $15.6 million settlement in the 1993 Jack in the Box E. coli litigation. The firm has since obtained substantial settlements and verdicts on behalf of victims of E. coli illnesses traced to contaminated ground beef, lettuce, sprouts, cantaloupe, and other foods. Marler Clark has litigated against such companies as KFC, McDonald’s, Hardees, Subway, Carl’s Jr., Costco, Chili’s, Chi-Chi’s, and ConAgra.

With at least 23 people in Minnesota sickened with the deadly E. coli O157:H7 bacteria, 8 of them hospitalized and 1 child developing acute kidney failure, all from apparently eating bagged, “pre-washed” lettuce, one needs to ask if the convenience is worth the risk. According to the FDA, more that 245,000 bags of lettuce might be affected nationwide. An alert and recall has been launched. Some of the recalled lettuce has been found to be contaminated with the same E. coli that has sickened the 23 Minnesotans. Is the convenience worth the risk? What more needs to be done?
As maintained in a recent article in the Salinas Californian, 23 percent of all salads in the United States are bagged and in 2004 bagged lettuce reached $4 billion in sales. This, despite numerous outbreaks traced to E. coli-contaminated produce in the last few years.
In October 2003, 13 residents of a California retirement center were sickened and 2 died after eating E. coli-contaminated “pre-washed” spinach. In September 2003, nearly 40 patrons of a California restaurant chain became ill after eating salads prepared with bagged, “pre-washed” lettuce. In July 2002, over 50 young women were stricken with E. coli at a dance camp after eating “pre-washed” lettuce, leaving several hospitalized, and 1 with life-long kidney damage. The Center for Science in the Public Interest found that of 225 food-poisoning outbreaks from 1990 to 1998, nearly 20 percent (55 outbreaks) were linked to fresh fruits, vegetables or salads.
What about bagged, “pre-washed” lettuce and other fresh fruits and vegetables? Is “pre-washing” enough? Has this $4 billion industry done enough to protect consumers? Should consumers wash again the “pre-washed” product? Perhaps, however, in a study published in the January 2002 journal of Applied and Environmental Microbiology, washing lettuce, no matter how often may not make the product safe. The study found it possible that lettuce can be contaminated “through transport of the pathogen into the plant by the root system.”
So, what should consumers do to protect themselves? What can the industry do to protect its customers? Research, more research – we need to find a way to make sure pathogenic E. coli stays out of products that are not cooked before eaten – like salads. We need to know if washing (repeatedly) is enough, or if other, more invasive procedures are necessary. Is the convenience worth the risk? Research should tell us.