July 2008

We are proud that our client, Angela Pedersen, spoke out on local TV about her son’s life-threatening illness. The Pedersen family is suing Soni Copeland and The Herb Depot and Organic Market in Monett.

"It was a living hell. I wouldn’t wish that upon anyone," says Pedersen.

It’s hard for Pedersen to look back on the last few months. She almost lost her son Larry, who was not even a year old, to E. coli.

"I don’t know how many days I would look at my son and I didn’t know if he was going to take another breath," says Pedersen.

Pedersen says Larry contracted the disease from raw milk she bought at the Herb Depot and Organic Market in Monett. The family’s now suing that business. Pedersen says back in April she went to the store to buy almond milk. She says she was then told about the benefits of raw milk.

"We were approached and told that the goat’s milk would be a better alternative. It’s healthier than breast milk and it would be wonderful for him. We agreed to try it," says Pedersen.

Just days later, Pedersen says her son got very sick.

"It began with upset stomach, diarrhea and basically key thing and what all parents need to watch out for is blood in the stool," says Pedersen.

Larry was diagnosed with E. coli and quickly developed life-threatening complications. He did recover after 30 days, but the family says having kidney damage changes you for life.

"We are just grateful we’ve gotten through it and that we have our son, "says Pedersen.

Angela Pedersen says she understands there are many people who believe in drinking raw milk, but says from now on, she’s sticking to what she knows and remaining thankful for what she has.

"Every day, every second, every time I look at my kids I am thankful." says Pederson.

The first lawsuit stemming from the Salmonella outbreak that has sickened 1319 people, hospitalized 255 and caused the death of 2 in 43 states, the District of Columbia and Canada was filed today in the District Court of Montezuma County, Colorado. The complaint was filed on behalf of Delores, Colorado resident Brian Grubbs against Wal-Mart and an unknown supplier, referred to as “John Doe”.

The lawsuit states that the Grubbs family purchased raw jalapeno peppers from the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Cortez, Colorado in late June, and that Mr. Grubbs ate them over the next week. He fell ill on July 3, experiencing nausea, vomiting, fever, chills, and diarrhea. Over the next several days, Mr. Grubbs’ condition continued to worsen; he lost a great deal of weight, was severely dehydrated, and could not walk without assistance. His wife drove him to the Northern Navajo Medical Center in Shiprock, New Mexico, where he was treated for dehydration and decreased kidney and liver functions. Samples taken at the time later revealed that he was positive for salmonella Saintpaul.

“Consumers believe that retailers like Wal-Mart know the quality and safety of products they sell,” said William Marler, the Grubbs’ attorney. “Retailers benefit from that trust, and must be held accountable for the products they sell.”

The Grubbs family still possessed some of the peppers that Mr. Grubbs had consumed, and provided them to authorities. Tests revealed that the peppers were tainted with salmonella Saintpaul, and provided one of the first reported physical links in the three-month-long search for the source of the outbreak.

Salmonellosis illnesses from the Saintpaul strain began showing up in Texas and New Mexico in late April, and in early June the CDC linked those illnesses to raw tomatoes and issued consumer warnings. Advisories were widened to include foods commonly consumed with tomatoes, such as peppers, cilantro, and onions, then narrowed to raw jalapeno and serrano peppers. On July 30, the FDA confirmed the presence of salmonella Saintpaul at a farm in Mexico, both in irrigation water and on produce. The investigation is continuing. (A full timeline of the outbreak can be found here.)

Salmonella is a bacterium that causes one of the most common intestinal illnesses in the US: salmonellosis infection. It can be present in uncooked or undercooked meat, poultry, eggs, or unpasturized dairy products, as well as other foods contaminated during harvest, production, or packaging. Symptoms can begin 6 to 72 hours from consumption, and include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, fever, nausea, and/or vomiting. In most victims, symptoms will lessen over a period of 10 days to 2 weeks, although it may take months for body functions to return to normal. In others, the infection can lead to more severe illnesses such as typhoid fever and bacteremia. There are many strains of the bacterium; salmonella Saintpaul is a fairly common serotype, but the specific subtype, or fingerprint, associated with this outbreak is very rare.

Under the category, “when it rains it pours,” the meat packing industry took a hard hit – or, was it a stun gun to the head? The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports this morning on the “stunning” victory of my friends, Fred Gordon and Ron Pezze, over “big beef” and the lawyers and insurance corporations that protect them.

Meatpacker Excel must pay Sizzler $7.1 million for E. coli outbreak

The Jury of Milwaukee citizens set a strong message to the industry to clean up their sh*&:

A jury Wednesday found that meatpacker Excel Corp. will have to pay Sizzler USA, a national restaurant chain, more than $7.1 million for lost revenue resulting from publicity surrounding the outbreak of a food-borne illness that killed a child and sickened scores of others at restaurants here eight years ago. The jury award brings the cost to Excel to $18.5 million plus lawyer fees.

Here is the kicker:

The jury was told that Excel had not admitted that its meat from its Colorado plant was the source of the deadly bacteria until just weeks before the settlement with the Kriefall family and that E&B had settled to the maximum of its insurance policy years ago.

“What took Excel so long was the fear of facing you,” Fred Gordon, a lawyer for the chain, told the jury.

Gordon and Pezze painted a bleak picture of the operation of the plant where the tainted meat was produced. They pointed to a high annual turnover in employees — 1,200 of the 2,000 — most of them immigrants; that the plant had been cited 17 times in three months for violations; and that some employees “harassed” federal inspectors by following them around.

Gordon noted that every 12 seconds an animal was killed at the plant, and that a retired federal inspector had testified that the plant could be made safe by slowing down the operation.

The jury system works.  "Big Beef," see ya in court.

So, Senator Obama’s Food Safety Bill landed in my inbox about a minute ago.  I have not read it, but thought I would get it out to my avid blog readers.  I’ll comment on it between dealing with more meat and produce recalls.  The Bill is S. 3358 – “A bill to provide for enhanced food-borne illness surveillance and food safety capacity.”

Click on the above.  If that does not work, email me at bmarler@marlerclark.com.  After a quick read, my thoughts are that Obama is right on the mark – a very great start.  However, at a funding level of only $25,000,000 per year, perhaps a bit light on funding.  Highlights of the Bill are:

  • Enhance Food-borne Illness Surveillance

A.  Inform and evaluate efforts to prevent food-borne illness
B.  Enhance the identification and investigation of, and response to, food-borne illness outbreaks
       1.  Coordinate and improve food-borne illness surveillance systems between local, state and federal governments to more rapidly support outbreak investigations.
       2.  Share data, stool and food isolates between local, state and federal governments AND the public.
       3.  Improve epidemiological tools, expand genetic fingerprinting capacity, annual reports on food-borne illness surveillance and outbreaks.
       4.  Establish long-term follow-up of late complications of food-borne illnesses.
       5.  Support scientific research.

  • Establish Food Safety Working Group

A.  Consisting of local, state and federal government food safety AND industry AND consumers to make recommendations for:
       1.  Prioritizing needs to prevent food-borne illnesses.
       2.  Improving access to food-borne illness surveillance data.
       3.  Reducing barriers for improvements for reducing food-borne illness.

  • Improve Food Safety Capacity

A.  Strengthen oversight of food safety at retail level.
B.  Strengthen capacity of state and local agencies to carry out inspections of food processing establishments.
C.  Survey state and local capacities and needs for enhancement with respect to:
       1.  Staffing levels and expertise.
       2.  Laboratory capacity.
       3.  Information systems.
       4.  Legal authority for roles in national food safety system.

  • Implement Food Safety Plan

A.  Assess adequacy of capacity to perform food safety functions of government.
B.  Action plan to meet highest priority capacity needs.
C.  Improve coordination and information between local, state and federal food safety agencies.
D.  Grants to local and state government to enhance food safety capacity and programs.

OK, he had me at hello.  My thoughts on the topic can be found at "Tainted Food: How To Combat Food Poisoning in the United States? Mr. McCain, Mr. Obama, are You Paying Attention?"

To borrow a well used phrase, and change it a bit – "I love the smell of a recall in the morning."

It seems that our friends in Omaha have been busy.  Apparently, a ground beef sample collected from Est. 20420 (All American Meats) on 6/25/08 tested positive for E. coli O157:H7 with indistinguishable PFGE pattern (genetic fingerprint) combination (EXHX01.0008 / EXHA26.0569).  This genetic fingerprint has been linked to 17 confirmed E. coli O157:H7 infections from 8 states (ID 2, MA 5, IL 1, PA 3, CA 1, OH 2, Al 1 and NM 2).  Est. 19336, (Nebraska Beef Ltd.), of the recent Kroger recall and suing the Minnesota church fame, appears to supply “primals” and “trim” to All American Meats.  So, what is the business connection between Nebraska Beef and All American Meats?  I love All American Meats motto:

#1 Rule

"If we don’t take care of the customer… Somebody else will!"

So, I guess I will.  So, when do we send in the stormtroopers?

Lou Dobbs must be dancing in the streets.

Dr. Acheson of the FDA testified today to a packed Hearing of the Energy and Commerce Committee that the FDA found Salmonella saintpaul, the salmonella outbreak strain that has sickened at least 1,307 people since April, on a Mexican farm. However, the CDC also reported today that:

It appears likely that more than one food vehicle is involved in this outbreak. It cannot all be entirely accounted for by a single food item. By themselves, tomatoes cannot explain the entire outbreak, nor do jalapeno peppers explain all the clusters. It appears likely that more than one food vehicle is involved. Although rare, more than one food has been implicated in foodborne outbreaks in the past.

At present, information indicates that jalapeño peppers and Serrano peppers grown harvested, or packed in Mexico are the cause of some clusters and are major food vehicles for the outbreak. Although tomatoes currently on the market are safe, raw tomatoes consumed early in the outbreak are still under investigation. The outbreak strain of Salmonella Saintpaul has been isolated twice from jalapeno peppers and once from Serrano peppers.

So, it is clearly linked to Jalapenos and Serrano peppers. Tomatoes, however, remain suspect for those illnesses that occurred in the beginning of the outbreak – April, May and early June.

According to Jane Zhang of the Wall Street Journal, "the issue of food safety is also gaining attention on the campaign trail. Tuesday, Sen. Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, introduced legislation that, among other things, aims to identify the needs of state health departments and increase the sharing of information among public-health and regulatory agencies."  I have been unable to find a link to the legislation.  I assume he did do it.

Perhaps he has been reading my posts between waffles:

It is time for politicians to notice that consumers are less and less confident in our food supply

Tainted Food: How To Combat Food Poisoning in the United States? Mr. McCain, Mr. Obama, are You Paying Attention?

Obama – Where is the Beef?

As I have said before, with 76,000,000 million Americans being sickened, 325,000 hospitalized and at least 5,000 deaths every year due to food poisoning, I am sure that politicians can not avoid this issue.

So, what’s with Nebraska Beef? Nine people in southeast Nebraska have tested positive for E. coli infections, and health officials said a community event may be to blame for some of the illnesses. E. coli at nother potluck?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that every year at least 2000 Americans are hospitalized, and about 60 die as a direct result of E. coli infections and its complications. A recent study estimated the annual cost of E. coli O157:H7 illnesses to be $405 million (in 2003 dollars) which included $370 million for premature deaths, $30 million for medical care, and $5 million for lost productivity (Frenzen, Drake, and Angulo, 2005).

Botulism in food is a rare occurrence – Death by Botulism even rarer. However, I received a call today from a Florida family horribly impacted by the September 2006 Bolthouse Farms Botulism-tainted carrot juice. A full report from the CDC can be found here – “Botulism Associated with Commercial Carrot Juice — Georgia and Florida, September 2006”

According to the CDC, on September 8, 2006, the Georgia Division of Public Health (GDPH) and CDC were notified of three suspected cases of foodborne botulism in Washington County, Georgia. On September 25, the Florida Department of Health and CDC were notified of an additional suspected case in Tampa, Florida. The Florida case, whose family contacted me, is described below:

On September 25, officials at the Florida Department of Health, the Hillsborough County Health Department, and CDC were notified that a patient had been hospitalized in Tampa, Florida, on September 16, with respiratory failure and descending paralysis. On September 28, botulinum toxin type A was identified in the patient’s serum. Circulating toxin persisted more than 10 days after illness onset in this completely paralyzed patient, indicating ingestion of a massive toxin dose. Accordingly, the patient was treated with antitoxin, which prevents binding of circulating botulinum toxin to nerve endings. The patient remains hospitalized, paralyzed, and on a ventilator [actually, the patient has died].

The Hillsborough County Health Department collected an open, 450-milliliter bottle of Bolthouse Farms carrot juice, which had been found by a family member in the hotel room where the patient had been staying during the month before being hospitalized. The hotel room had no refrigerator. The bottle, which had a "best if used by" date of September 19, 2006, had a different lot number than the bottle associated with the Georgia cases. On September 29, botulinum toxin was identified in carrot juice from the bottle found in the patient’s hotel room; the toxin was subsequently identified as botulinum toxin type A.

Continue Reading Bolthouse Farms Botulism Revisited

I had a nice chat last week with one of the three “Haphazard Gourmet Girls.”

The Haphazard Gourmet Girls are big fans of Bill Marler, the foremost food poisoning attorney in the United States. Mr. Marler, of Seattle’s Marler Clark law firm, has made a career of very successfully suing high-profile Food Industrial Complex corporations, and also writes the excellent, erudite, highly informative Marlerblog, which covers all kinds of foodborne illness issues.

I usually am a bit shy when interviewed.  However, Eddie/Chef Couture – “Editor in Beef,” got the better of me.  Some of my best quotes from her post:

  • Many people–including me–think Bill Marler is a modern-day superhero for his tireless work fighting Foodie crimes of poisonings, but his closest friends won’t have him over for dinner, and his wife worries, only half-jokingly, that one day he’ll wind up "crushed into meat patties somewhere in Omaha."
  • What else happens when you’re brutally aware that one of the most fundamental human behaviors can also, accidentally and haphazardly, have profound mortal consequences?  "I drink a lot," Mr. Marler says, dryly, and chuckles.
  • "I’m probably the only guy in America who walks down the meat aisle in a supermarket and thinks cowsh*t, cowsh*t, cowsh*t," Mr. Marler says, almost gleeful.
  • “It really does drive me insane when I see the food-channel types extolling the virtues of raw milk without making it clear there’s a risk," Mr. Marler says. “If you’re a little kid or an elderly person or pregnant, raw milk can be deadly. There’s got to be that balance between the food pornographer side of us and the safety side, and the raw milk people just ignore that.”
  • "Beijing is not a bland place," Mr. Marler says. "You can get bull penis in a restaurant made five different ways. I went to a lot of banquets where they were serving just nasty stuff–I still have no idea what it was."
  • So, given the huge amount of time Mr. Marler spends traveling by air, does he eat on planes?  "I have a couple of Scotches every time I’m on a plane, and I’ve never gotten sick," Mr. Marler says.
  • Did Mr. Marler eat tomatoes during the most recent two-month recall extravaganza?  "Yes. I just got lucky,” he says. “And I only ate tomatoes with wine….dip a jalapeno in Scotch, and you can probably eat one with no problem."

There seems to be a common thread in my quotes.