March 2010

Rosemary Parker, a.k.a "raw milk lady," of the Kalamazoo Gazette reported today on the expanding raw milk outbreak.

According to Rosemary, an outbreak of campylobacter bacteria that causes diarrhea and fever has spread to three states and is linked to raw milk from the same dairy, according to state officials. 

Three cases of campylobacter infection in Indiana and one in Illinois have been added to a cluster of 13 people in southeastern Michigan who have tested positive for the illness, those state’s health departments announced Tuesday.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has joined the investigation into the source of the illness, but the state health departments in Michigan, Indiana and Illinois believe it is linked to unpasteurized milk supplied by Family Farms Cooperative, of Vandalia. All the sick people drank unpasteurized milk provided by the cooperative; no other common factor has been identified, said Pam Pontones, an Indiana state epidemiologist.

A lot of my blog followers and subscribers have been following the story of Linda Rivera and her fight against the E. coli O157:H7 bacteria.  As you might recall, Linda has been hospitalized since May 2, 2009 – yes, almost 11 months.  She has suffered kidney and liver failure.  She has suffered seizures and has had a portion of her colon removed.  She has had more near death experiences than anyone should ever have.  Her medical bills to date have nearly reached her life-time cap.  She and her husband have been unable to work and they are now on COBRA which will expire in less than a year.

So, why is Linda smiling?  Three reasons. 

First, she is being released from the hospital in the next week.  She will be entering a rehab center where she hopes to learn how to walk and care for her and her family (husband and six kids) again.  She has a very long road ahead, but I am hopeful that she is going to make the best recovery that she is able. 

Second, because she has more pre-existing conditions than you can imagine, and she faced a cap on and the end of her insurance, the new health care bill passed by the democrats in the House and Senate and signed by the President will help her.  She and her family will not face certain bankruptcy because she will now be able to find insurance despite her health history and no job.

Third, she and her husband, Richard, received a call from their Senator, Harry Reid today.  Linda and Richard were able to voice their support for S. 510 – FDA Food Safety Modernization Act.  It is not every day that you can turn a horrible tragedy into a reason for action.

That is why Linda is smiling.

Hepatitis A is the only common vaccine-preventable foodborne disease in the United States (Fiore, 2004). It is one of five human hepatitis viruses that primarily infect the human liver and cause human illness. Unlike hepatitis B and C, hepatitis A doesn’t develop into chronic hepatitis or cirrhosis, which are both potentially fatal conditions; however, infection with the hepatitis A virus (HAV) can still lead to acute liver failure and death.  Click on image to download:

FDA Food Safety Modernization Act – Amends the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) to expand the authority of the Secretary of Health and Human Services (the Secretary) to regulate food, including by authorizing the Secretary to suspend the registration of a food facility.

Requires each food facility to evaluate hazards and implement preventive controls.

Directs the Secretary to assess and collect fees related to: (1) food facility reinspection; (2) food recalls; and (3) the voluntary qualified importer program.

Requires the Secretary and the Secretary of Agriculture to prepare the National Agriculture and Food Defense Strategy.

Requires the Secretary to: (1) identify preventive programs and practices to promote the safety and security of food; (2) promulgate regulations on sanitary food transportation practices; (3) develop a policy to manage the risk of food allergy and anaphylaxis in schools and early childhood education programs; (4) allocate inspection resources based on the risk profile of food facilities or food; (5) recognize bodies that accredit food testing laboratories; and (6) improve the capacity of the Secretary to track and trace raw agricultural commodities.

Requires the Secretary, acting through the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to enhance foodborne illness surveillance systems.

Authorizes the Secretary to order an immediate cessation of distribution, or a recall, of food. Requires the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to assist state, local, and tribal governments in preparing for, assessing, decontaminating, and recovering from an agriculture or food emergency.

Provides for: (1) foreign supplier verification activities; (2) a voluntary qualified importer program; and (3) the inspection of foreign facilities registered to import food.

Saint Cloud Times last week reported:

A Cold Spring woman who nearly died after getting E. coli from a tainted hamburger is asking for more than $56 million in her lawsuit against Cargill.

Stephanie Smith, 23, was left paralyzed from the waist down and with extensive, long-term injuries that one day will require a kidney transplant. A court filing this week in her federal lawsuit against Cargill for the first time in public documents itemizes her medical expenses to date and estimates her future medical expenses and future lost wages.

Cargill has admitted it is "strictly liable and thus responsible for Ms. Smith’s injuries," according to a court filing this week in U.S. District Court. Cargill has paid about $390,000 for Smith’s rehabilitation care and has bought her a handicapped-accessible van, according to Cargill’s filing.

Smith’s attorneys have filed documents showing Cargill’s payments at about $360,000.

The court filing detailing her expenses indicates that her medical care has cost about $1.8 million so far. That filing estimates her future medical care at $29.5 million, and her lost future wages between $927,000 and $1.2 million. Smith’s attorneys are seeking an additional $25 million in general damages from Cargill.

Cargill case statement

Smith case statement

No trial date has been set for the case. Smith’s attorneys agreed to waive any punitive damages claim in exchange for a faster trial on compensatory damages only.

In its filing, Cargill indicates it hopes a settlement can be reached without a trial. Cargill has told the court it is reserving its rights to take action against suppliers "who provided improper materials," according to the court filing.

Smith is a former dance instructor who became ill in September 2007 after eating a hamburger produced by Cargill. She was diagnosed with an E. coli infection that developed into hemolytic uremic syndrome, a complication that causes kidney failure.

She suffered several seizures and was in a medically induced coma for three months. She has spent more than two years in rehabilitation and remains in a wheelchair.

Though they are cute and soft and associated with the arrival of spring, baby chicks or ducklings can carry harmful salmonella bacteria, health officials warn.

“We strongly discourage giving chicks or ducklings as gifts,” said Dr. Alan Melnick, Clark County health officer.

“To prevent possible infection with salmonella bacteria, give your child a stuffed toy animal instead. Anyone who touches a chick or duckling or its environment should immediately wash his or her hands afterwards.”

Children under 5 should never handle baby chicks or other young birds. Young children are most susceptible to infection because they’re more likely to put their fingers into their mouths and because their immune systems are still developing, according to Clark County Public Health.

Others at increased risk include the elderly, persons with sickle-cell disease or HIV/AIDS, and others with compromised immune systems.

Birds should also be kept away from food and drink. Salmonella infection can cause diarrhea, fever, stomach pain, nausea and sometimes vomiting that most commonly starts within 12 to 36 hours after ingestion.

The number of affected people continues to grow as more come forward to report shigella infections after eating at a Lombard Subway restaurant.

Dave Hass of the DuPage County Health Department said there are currently 116 confirmed shigella cases linked to the Subway restaurant as of today. Of those cases, 13 people were hospitalized and 12 were discharged.  Hass also said the source of the shigella is unknown at this time and might never be pinpointed. The restaurant, 1009 E. Roosevelt Road, has been closed since March 4.

Law firm Marler Clark now represents over 70 people affected by the outbreak.  Three lawsuits have been filed as of now.

Shigella infections are spread from person to person, and also can be acquired from contaminated food. The disease can be prevented by frequent hand washing with soap and water.

People who have developed these symptoms between Feb. 24 to March 1 after eating at the Lombard Subway restaurant are advised to contact their physicians and the DuPage County Health Department at (630) 682-7400. Information on shigellosis is available at http://www.idph.state.il.us/public/hb/hbshigellosis.htm.

Had an opportunity to speak with Tom Lutey of the Billings Gazette this week between traveling in Iowa, South Dakota and Nebraska about recalls and how government and industry could do better. The discussion comes on the heals of the HVP recall:

• The FDA Web site, www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/HVPCP, includes this information about each recalled food item: category, brand name, product description, recalling firm, size, lot numbers, stock numbers, product code.

• The list of recalled products, updated by the FDA on March 16, included 159 items.

• Food items in these categories are listed: bouillons, dressing and dressing mixes, flavoring bases and seasonings, frozen foods, gravy mixes, prepared salads, ready-to-eat meals, sauce and marinade mixes, snacks and snack mixes, soups, soup mixes, dips, dip mixes, spreads, flavoring base and seasoning products and stuffing.

The discussion with Mr. Lutey was the recent move by Congress to ask if supermarkets should be better at notifying customers of food recalls by tapping data collected through store loyalty cards and store club memberships.

“All of them have the ability to track people by purchases,” said Bill Marler, an attorney specializing in food-borne illness and publisher of Food Safety News, an online journal. “The question is whether they want to use it for good or evil, whether they want to find out if we buy a lot of Twinkies or if they want to let us know that we bought a poisonous product.”

Food recalls typically start after people get sick, or after a company receives notice from a lab that its food has tested positive for contaminants, Marler said. It’s not uncommon for the tainted food to continue being shipped for sale until the test comes back. Less often, a food manufacturer will test an ingredient bought from a supplier and contact the government over a bad result.

The Consumer Recall Notification Act introduced in the U.S. Senate last week would change the notification process. Food companies would have to notify restaurants and retailers of contaminated food within 24 hours. The federal government would have to extend its notifications far down the food chain, to clinics and emergency rooms.

It will be interesting to see how interested the public is in balancing privacy vs the ability to track poisoned food.