December 2006

Officials say Taco Bell wrapper had human blood

Alex Davis of the Louisville Courier-Journal wrote “A small amount of human blood was found on the outside of a food wrapper on a woman’s order from a Taco Bell restaurant on S. Third Street, according to an investigation by the Louisville Metro Health Department.”  One must say Yum, Inc.

Bloody bags and E. coli-tainted lettuce does not help the stock price:

Interestingly I made the Puget Sound Business Journal (PSBJ) as a 2006 “fighter.”  The article then made it as a post on the Bremerton Sun’s blog this morning.

Making the List

Also on the newsmaker list is William Marler, a Bainbridge Island resident and lawyer who has made a name for himself fighting companies over E. coli outbreaks. He’s on PSBJ’s list of “fighters.” Marler first became prominent by fighting Jack in the Box in 1993 for its E. coli outbreak. Most recently he sued Taco Bell parent company Yum! Foods after E. coli was traced to green onions used in its food.

Here is the full post from the PSBJ:

fighters (fye’-terz) n. 1 Leaders locked in struggles where the outcome isn’t yet known

Marler’s law firm takes on national E. coli cases

William Marler, a partner at Marler & Clark LLP of Seattle, first made a name for himself when he tackled the litigation involved with the Jack in the Box E. coli outbreak in 1993.

This year he made news by tracking the nationwide outbreak of E. coli sicknesses in connection with bagged spinach. The outbreak has been linked to 183 illnesses in 26 states.

Jack in the Box isn’t the only prominent fast-food chain Marler has taken on. On Dec. 11, Marler’s firm filed its second lawsuit in the Taco Bell E. coli outbreak in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York.

I posted on www.ecoliblog.com this morning about another New York E. coli victim taking on Taco Bell
The filing coincides with Taco Bell’s announcement that Taco Bell President Greg Creed and Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell will tour the Taco Bell restaurant located at Franklin Mills Circle in Philadelphia at 1:00 p.m. ET today.  As I said in a statement:

“While Taco Bell is parading around with politicians, the victims of this outbreak continue to incur costs related to their illnesses.”

“The least a multi-million dollar corporation like Taco Bell can do is make a good will gesture and pay my clients’ medical expenses.”

“Corporate responsibility means stepping up to the plate and saying you’re sorry when you’ve done something wrong – like poison your customers – and then putting forth an effort to make things right.”

I just saw this headline and excerpt from a Business Wire Press Release:

Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell and Taco Bell President Greg Creed Meet for Lunch and Tour of Philadelphia Taco Bell
(Business Wire)-December 27, 2006

As a further demonstration that its food is completely safe to eat, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell will visit a Philadelphia Taco Bell tomorrow to have lunch with Greg Creed, Taco Bell President. The lunch will include a complete tour of the facility, as well as interview and photo opportunities for media.

So, while the good Governor eats tacos and sucks up to corporate interests, bodies are still being counted in Pennsylvania and neighboring States stemming from the Taco Bell E. coli outbreak.  The numbers as of last week were:

New York – 25 confirmed; 333 suspect

New Jersey – 37 confirmed; 11 probable

And in the Governor’s home State of Pennsylvania – 10 confirmed; 6 probable

On December 5, 2006 I posted on www.marlerblog.com:

E. coli Attorney Calls on Taco Bell to Pay Victims’ Medical Bills

William Marler, a nationally-recognized food safety advocate and attorney, today called on Taco Bell “to do the right thing and immediately pay the medical bills for the victims of this most recent E. coli O157:H7 outbreak traced to Taco Bell restaurants in New York and New Jersey. Marler noted that, in other outbreaks, companies such as Dole, Jack in the Box, Odwalla, Chi-Chi’s and Sheetz advanced medical costs for outbreak victims whose illnesses were traced to their food products.

Taco Bell is familiar with E. coli outbreaks. 10 people where made ill by the potentially deadly E. coli O157:H7 bacteria in December 1999, including a 5-year-old girl and an 8-year-old girl, who were hospitalized. All but one of the victims recalled eating at various Taco Bell restaurants within eight days of their illness, and all 10 cases have been linked genetically to bacteria likely to have originated at a single source.

So, Governor, perhaps between meals you could do something useful and ask the CEO why no offer to pay the medical bills of the people he poisoned?

According to a Press Release from Bioniche Life Sciences Inc. (TSX: BNC), a research-based, technology-driven Canadian biopharmaceutical company, the company last week received authorization from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to distribute its E. coli O157:H7 cattle vaccine to Canadian veterinarians under a Permit to Release Veterinary Biologics as specified in the Canadian Health of Animal Regulations. This authorization equates to what is referred to as a “conditional license” in the U.S. This is the first vaccine technology for control of E. coli O157:H7 to be authorized for field use by a regulator globally. The vaccine is indicated for the reduction of shedding of E. coli O157:H7 bacteria in cattle.

Recent outbreaks of E. coli O157:H7 affecting spinach and other produce in North America have highlighted the fact that this is an increasingly serious human health threat that goes beyond meat (the first major foodborne outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 occurred in 1982 and was associated with ground beef). Human exposure to E. coli O157:H7 is being increasingly associated with contaminated fruit, vegetables, unpasteurized milk and fruit juice, potable and recreational water, and from direct contact with animals at fairs and petting zoos

Continue Reading Bioniche E. Coli O157:H7 Cattle Vaccine Authorized For Field Use In Canada

The FDA has no specific criteria for preventing outbreaks, and experts say it doesn’t have the resources to draft such regulations.

A well done article by Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, LA Times Staff Writer – important excerpts:

Recurring outbreaks of food-borne illness from contaminated produce are “unacceptable” in today’s society, the government says. But when it comes to preventing new occurrences, the Food and Drug Administration hasn’t done much of the basic research that would let it write regulations to fix the problem.

“We’ve got some of the knowledge, and industry can start acting on what they know, but in order for the FDA to provide leadership, they really need to invest in research,” said Taylor, who also previously served as an FDA deputy commissioner and is now an assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

“The idea is that somehow all the stakeholders will get together and in the absence of science and data arrive at some kind of reasonable consensus,” said Trevor Suslow, an agricultural extension agent at UC Davis. “It won’t happen if they wait for the science. They have to pick a starting point and go forward.”

Consumer groups are concerned that the lack of scientific research will lead to more delays in produce safety rules. “I don’t want to see this tied up for another couple of years while they investigate all the science,” said Caroline Smith DeWaal, the director of food safety for the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

The incoming Democratic chairwoman of the House committee that oversees FDA funding said she was baffled that the agency had not asked congressional budget writers for more money for food safety. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), said she planned to make food safety the topic of her first hearing next year.

“We have to find out where we are falling down here,” said DeLauro. “Is it resources, is it management, is it a combination of the two? “We have to be able to prevent these outbreaks,” she added, “and not just have a good response when they occur.”

A story that Mr. McLaughlin and Mr. Bailey have been working on over the past months on the DOLE spinach outbreak of last September.  The report is the most comprehensive look at the outbreak from farm to fork – then to hospital and courtroom.  They do a great job of highlightening, not only the process of manufacturing spinach, but also the impact on cunsumers, specifically, our clients the Brotts:

“With medical expenses reaching $150,000, Brott signed on with Seattle attorney Bill Marler, who is handling nearly 100 claims related to the outbreak.”

At least nine outbreaks of illness associated with E. coli bacteria in past 10 years are traced to lettuce and spinach grown in state
By Ken McLaughlin and Brandon Bailey

In the same article with same writers, the Mercury News had a different headline:

FROM SEEDS TO SICKNESS – WISCONSIN MOM, 203 OTHERS FELL ILL WHEN E. COLI TAINTED SPINACH GROWN ON THE CENTRAL COAST

As the mid-July sun bore down on California’s Central Coast, automatic planters dropped millions of spinach seeds in a shimmering valley, where vegetable fields sit next to cattle pastures and a drowsy creek.

Five weeks later and 2,000 miles away, a cosmetics distributor in suburban Milwaukee was enjoying a crisp green salad, her favorite lunch during the hot and muggy days of a Midwestern summer.

That health-conscious meal nearly killed her.

The story of how spinach put Lisa Brott in the hospital traces a complex journey from field to table that reveals the failure of the nation’s produce industry to devise a reliable system for keeping one of its most popular products safe.

In the past decade, lettuce and spinach grown in California’s Central Coast region have caused at least nine outbreaks of illness associated with E. coli bacteria. Today, fresh produce outpaces even meat as a source of food-borne illness. The beef industry tightened its safety practices after Jack in the Box burgers contaminated with E. coli killed four children in 1993. But with vegetables, regulators and growers are still catching up.

Continue Reading California produce now crop of concern

Here are some tips for preparing traditional holiday foods safely from our friends at the Dupage County Health Department:

Raw lamb or beef should be used within three to five days of purchase. Lamb and beef roasts should be cooked to an internal temperature of at 145°F to be medium rare, and 170°F for well done. Use a meat thermometer to be sure the proper internal temperature has been reached. Cut into thin slices and refrigerate promptly after the meal.

Thaw frozen turkey in the refrigerator. Allow one day for each five pounds of turkey. A twenty-pound turkey will take approximately four days to thaw. (Hint: Remove neck & giblets from inside the bird as soon as possible to hasten thawing.) Do not thaw on the kitchen counter. If you do not have time to thaw in the refrigerator, you can thaw the turkey in the kitchen sink, provided you refill the sink with cold water every half-hour. Cook fresh turkeys within two days, thawed turkey within four days. Read and follow the cooking directions on the label. Cook turkey until it is done (165°F). Do not slow cook overnight at low temperatures or partially cook. Some turkeys come with pop-up thermometers. They are to be used only as a guide to doneness; therefore, taking the temperature with a meat thermometer is still important. Stuffing should not be prepared a day ahead and the turkey should not be stuffed until it is ready to cook. A quicker, safer method is to cook the stuffing separately in a casserole, using some of the pan juices to flavor and moisten the stuffing.

Fully cooked, ready-to-eat ham must be kept refrigerated. If heated for a meal, heat to internal temperature of 140°F. Use a meat thermometer to be sure the proper internal temperature has been reached. After the meal, cut the ham into thin slices and refrigerate promptly. Slices will keep up to four days in the refrigerator.

And not to forget Fresh Produce – Helen Branswell of our friends up north wrote an article for the Canadian Press a few months ago – Experts answer questions about contaminated produce

It’s unsettling stuff – E. coli-contaminated salad fixings and botulism-laced vegetable juice. What’s a health-conscious consumer to think when Popeye’s miracle food kills an American toddler and a swig of carrot juice paralyzes two Torontonians?

The fact is that while most people see an undercooked hamburger or chicken breast as the source of most food poisoning incidents, the vegetables and fruits public health experts urge us all to eat can be just as effective at passing along bugs that can make for a few unpleasant hours in the mildest cases and serious, even fatal illness in the most severe.

“In the States, there’s a lot of evidence now that fresh produce is the number 1 cause of foodborne illness and has outstripped foods of animal origin,” says Mansel Griffiths, director of the Canadian Research Institute for Food Safety at the University of Guelph.

So, wash you vegetables well before you cook them and/or before you serve them raw.  Me, I go right to red wine (no scientific basis for it).  Foods I avoid – unpasteurized juices and milk, sprouts, bagged, pre-washed produce of any kind, raw shellfish and other raw meats or cheeses.  Everything else I wash, wash and wash, if it is produce, and I cook all meat products a bit more that the directions above.  Also, be careful about cross-contamination between raw uncooked or unwashed foods and counter-tops, utensils and other ready to eat foods.  And, WASH YOUR HANDS.  Happy Holidays.

You have to love the creativity of counsel for Dole and Natural Selection Foods (NSF) in answering the complaint of a little boy frm Utah poisoned (one of at least 204 in twenty-six states – there were four deaths) by spinach NSF produced for Dole.  I have picked out some of the more absurd defenses raised:

THIRD AFFIRMATIVE DEFENSE
The product complained of was in a reasonable safe condition when it left the possession and control of Defendant.

FOURTH AFFIRMATIVE DEFENSE
At the time of manufacture of the product complained of there was no alternative production practice available that would not have compromised the product’s usefulness.

FIFTH AFFIRMATIVE DEFENSE
The injury complained of is the result of an inherent characteristic of packaged and processed food items and cannot be eliminated without compromising its usefulness thus precluding liability.

ELEVENTH AFFIRMATIVE DEFENSE
Defendants made no warranties, expressed or implied, that were relied upon by Plaintiffs.

THIRTEENTH AFFIRMATIVE DEFENSE
Plaintiffs claims against Defendants are barred or must be reduced to the extent Plaintiffs failed to mitigate any alleged damages or by the doctrine of avoidable consequences.

FOURTEENTH AFFIRMATIVE DEFENSE
Plaintiffs have unreasonably delayed the commencement of this action to the prejudice of Answering Defendants. Therefore, the complaint, and each and every cause of action alleged therein is barred, in whole or in part, by the doctrine of laches.

EIGHTEENTH AFFIRMATIVE DEFENSE
Plaintiffs’ complaint is barred by the doctrines of contributory negligence and/or assumption of risk.

NINETEENTH AFFIRMATIVE DEFENSE
Defendants owed no duty to Plaintiffs.

TWENTY-THIRD AFFIRMATIVE DEFENSE
Plaintiffs’ alleged damages were the result of an idiosyncratic reaction which Defendants could not reasonably foresee.

Taco John’s – we have filed two suits in Federal Court in Iowa against Taco John’s.  We have been contacted by 10 other Minnesota and Iowa residents and we are investigating those claims.  Interestingly, at first Taco John’s seemed to deny that its restaurant in Waterloo, Iowa was implicated, but Fred Minnick’s article today seems to support that our client and others became sick as a result of eating there.

UPDATED: Taco John’s reacts to lawsuit

“On Dec. 20, the company confirmed the media’s report of a lawsuit, that there had been one confirmed illness and possibly a few other illnesses allegedly associated with a fourth restaurant, in Waterloo, Iowa. According to a statement, neither the restaurant franchisees nor the corporation were contacted by the local health department or by any individuals who believe they became ill after eating at the Waterloo location.”

In addition, to their credit, “Taco John’s has paid medical expenses for customers whose illness resulted from eating at one of the affected restaurants.”

Taco Bell
– we have filed two suits in Federal Court, one in Pennsylvania and one in New York.  We have been contacted by 25 other people from several states and we are investigating.  Taco Bell has not offered to pay customer’s medical bills.