November 2014

Second sprout recall in two years.

On November 24, 2014, Henry’s Farm Inc. of Woodford, VA recalled all packages of Soybean Sprouts because they may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, an organism which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections to individuals with weakened immune systems. Although healthy individuals may suffer only short term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea, Listeria infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women.

The following products were being recalled by the firm.

  1. All clear 1 lb packages of Natto Soybean Sprouts. These products are labeled as produced by Henry’s Farm Inc. The packages were not coded.
  2. All clear 2 lb packages of Bean Sprouts. These products are labeled as distributed by Rhee Bros. Inc. Columbia, MD. The packages were not coded.
  3. All bulk (approximately 10 lbs.) black plastic bags of Soy Bean Sprouts. These products are labeled as produced by Henry’s Farm Inc. The packages were not coded.

These items were distributed to retail stores in Virginia and Maryland.

The contamination was discovered after sampling by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Food Safety & Security Program and subsequent analysis by the Virginia Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services revealed the presence of Listeria monocytogenes in the products.

As of November 24, a total of 68 persons infected with the outbreak strains of Salmonella have been reported from 10 states. The number of ill people identified in each state is as follows: Connecticut (4), Maine (3), Massachusetts (31), Montana (1), New Hampshire (4), New York (5), Ohio (1), Pennsylvania (10), Rhode Island (6), and Vermont (3). The one ill person from Montana traveled to the Eastern United States during the period when likely exposure occurred.

Illness onset dates range from September 30, 2014 to November 10, 2014. Ill persons range in age from younger than one year to 83 years, with a median age of 31 years. Fifty-six percent of ill persons are female. Among 43 persons with available information, 11 (26%) have been hospitalized, and no deaths have been reported.

State and local public health officials also performed traceback investigations on the source of bean sprouts for all five-illness clusters as well as for several individual ill persons and reported the results of these investigations to FDA and CDC. Traceback from all of the establishments indicated that all received bean sprouts from Wonton Foods, Inc. of Brooklyn, New York. Although some restaurants also received bean sprouts from other suppliers, Wonton Foods, Inc. was the only supplier common to all of the restaurants and was the sole supplier of bean sprouts to at least two of the restaurants. The firm is cooperating with public health and agriculture officials and has reported that their last shipment of bean sprouts was on November 18, 2014. As of November 21, 2014, the firm has verbally agreed to voluntarily stop the production and sale of their bean sprouts while they take steps to prevent Salmonella contamination.

I admittedly have much to be thankful for.  I have three beautiful, talented daughters and a spectacular wife who has tolerated me for over 25 years.  I am fortunate at Marler Clark to be surrounded by great staff and gifted lawyers.  And, unlike many in my profession, I love my job.  I am also daily honored by families that retain me to seek justice and change.  After 21 years representing victims of foodborne illnesses in every state, it is impossible to make a list of clients I am especially thankful for, but here is my Turkey Day try:

Brianne Kiner – nine years old at the time when I represented her in the 1993 Jack in the Box E. coli O157:H7 outbreak, she suffered one of the worst of the illnesses.  She developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, which caused her to become puffy and jaundiced.  She began to bleed from every orifice in her body. Brianne would eventually slip into a coma, during which doctors removed her large intestine and hooked her heart, lungs, and kidneys up to machines to keep them functioning. Though expected to die, Bri eventually emerged from the coma, and began the slow process of recovery, to the extent she would be able to recover.  Bri and I talk – not as frequently and we used to – but she has become a wonderful, caring young woman.  Her story was told in the book Poisoned.

Mari Tardiff – In June 2008 Mari Tardiff began to experience acute diarrhea and vomiting, which eventually gave way to a searing pain in her legs. The night of June 12th, Mari went to bed after soaking her legs in hot water to get some temporary relief, and awoke to find she could not move her legs. She was admitted to the hospital, where the paralysis began to spread to the rest of her body. Despite being unable to move, she continued to feel intense pain instead of the numbness usually experienced by victims of paralysis. Doctors eventually diagnosed Mari with Guillain-Barré syndrome, a severe complication of Campylobacter infection in which the body’s immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system. Mari’s case was linked to those of others who had developed Campylobacter infections from drinking raw milk produced by Alexandre EcoDairy Farms, a “cow-share” program in California. Mari spent almost six months in the hospital and in rehabilitation facilities, where she slowly learned to breathe again without a ventilator, and began to regain some of her speech and motion. She now lives at home in her family room, which has been outfitted with the equipment she needs, such as a hospital bed, stand-up frame, and Hoyer lift. Mari still is unable to walk without assistance, but her progress has been amazing.

Linda Rivera – In May 2009, when Linda Rivera dipped a spoon into the package of Nestle Toll House cookie dough she was using to make cookies for her twin sons’ prom party, she was unaware that she was also consuming a batch of E. coli O157:H7 bacteria that would eventually lead to hemolytic uremic syndrome.  Four days later, Linda was admitted to the hospital, vomiting every five minutes. Doctors told her that E. coli was destroying her colon. They removed part of the organ, along with her gallbladder. Her kidneys and liver also shut down, and she was put into a medically induced coma. When she awoke, she went into cardiac arrest, and required emergency kidney dialysis.  Linda spent the next year of her life in Las Vegas-area hospitals. She was given last rites in expectation of her death three times. In the 13th month of her illness, she was finally transported to a rehabilitation facility in San Francisco, where she remained for another year, learning to walk and communicate again. Linda, with the support of her amazing husband and family, was finally able to come home, where after a noble struggle with numerous health issues, she finally passed.  I had the honor to speak at her memorial service.

Abby FenstermakerAbby Fenstermaker, who will be forever six, was admitted to the hospital on May 11, 2009 after ongoing diarrhea left her severely dehydrated. Her body hurt so badly that she sometimes cried out in pain. Abby had developed hemolytic uremic syndrome.  Abby’s kidneys began to shut down. A chest x-ray revealed fluid building up around her lungs. She was eventually put on oxygen to facilitate breathing. The next day found Abby minimally responsive, and a brain scan revealed that she had likely suffered a massive stroke. She then slipped into a coma. Her condition declined further over the next two days until doctors finally proclaimed her brain-dead. On May 17, Abby’s parents requested that she be removed from life support, and, along with family and friends, said goodbye to their only daughter.

Richard Miller – On October 13, 2003, Richard Miller and his wife Linda stopped by Chi-Chi’s restaurant in Monaca, Pennsylvania to grab lunch, and left with a Hepatitis A virus. Later in the month, both fell ill with body aches, loss of appetite and energy, and jaundice. But while Linda recovered within a few days, Richard’s case grew more severe. When he became incoherent and unable to stand, he was admitted to the hospital, sedated and eventually put on life support. Richard ultimately required a liver transplant, during which he suffered cardiac arrest. He pulled through the operation, only to begin a new life.

Stephanie Smith – In October of 2007, Cargill Meat Solutions Corporation recalled 847,000 pounds of frozen ground beef patties after they were found to be the source of a particularly virulent strain of E. coli O157:H7 that sickened 11 people. Stephanie Smith, a 22-year-old dance instructor from Cold Spring, Minnesota, suffered the worst injuries of the victims of the E. coli outbreak traced to Cargill meat.  She developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, which shut down her kidneys and led to such frequent seizures that she was put into a medically induced coma for nine months. She emerged from the coma with brain damage, paralyzed from the waist down. A 2009 New York Times article by Michael Moss chronicling Stephanie Smith’s experience with E. coli won the Pulitzer Prize for journalism. The article traces her hamburger back to the day it was made, looking at how it and other ground beef patties are produced. It also investigates the shortcomings of ground beef regulation that increase the risk of E. coli contamination.  The article spurred sympathy for Stephanie and raised awareness of the problems associated with beef production in the United States.

Jeff Almer – Over 714 people in 46 states became ill with Salmonella Typhimurium infections after consuming peanut and peanut butter products produced in 2008 and 2009 by Peanut Corporation of America confirmed.  Nine people died, including Jeff’s mom. Jeff has been a tireless food safety advocate and seeker of justice for his mom.

Cantaloupe Listeria Clients – For the last three years Marler Clark has represented the families of 46 victims of the 2011 Listeria outbreak linked to cantaloupe grown by Jensen Farms.  The firm has pursued compensation from Jensen Farms, the firms that audited the farm’s food safety practices, the companies that distributed the Listeria-contaminated cantaloupes and the retailers that sold the unsafe food.  We have also seen the criminal justice system work and have been more that proud of many of the clients who have told their stories and helped push a reluctant food safety system forward.

Honored, proud and thankful.

The Food Standards Agency’s (FSA) released its “Name and Shame” Report this morning.  The idea of testing retail chicken and publishing the results had been the focus of much discussion over the last few months.  Some UK retailers were not very happy that the public would actually know how tainted the chicken really is.

If this had been the US equivalent, FSIS, we would be wondering why would the report be released on Thanksgiving Day.  My guess is that in the UK Thanksgiving does not have the same meaning as it does over here.

Retailers had tried to block the study’s release.

Well, back to the study; Campylobacter was found in 70 per cent of chicken tested up from 59 per cent of chickens in August.  Almost a fifth of all chickens (18 per cent) tested positive for Campylobacter above the highest level of contamination, while six per cent of packaging tested positive – a rise of four per cent since August.

The FSA also revealed that Asda sold the highest percentage of chickens contaminated with the bug.  Campylobacter was present in 78 per cent of chickens from the supermarket, with 28 per cent above the highest level of contamination.

Packaging testing showed 12 per cent was contaminated.  Don’t forget the recent “chicken juice” report.

Almost three-quarters of chickens (73 per cent) sold by the Co-operative tested positive, followed by Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose (69 per cent), Marks & Spencer (67 per cent) and Tesco (64 per cent).

Perhaps it is time to redo our 2011 testing of contamination levels in chicken purchased in Seattle.  Here were some of the results:

The study showed that up to 80% of Seattle area raw chicken could be contaminated with some form of potentially harmful bacteria.

Testing done by IEH Laboratories in Lake Forest Park, Washington showed that 80 of 100 raw chickens purchased at various Seattle area grocery stores contained at least one potentially harmful pathogen.

The test was comprised of 18 brands of chicken purchased at 18 different Seattle area stores including chain grocery stores, Safeway (3 locations), Albertsons (2), QFC (4), Fred Meyer (2), Thriftway (1); warehouse clubs Costco (2) and Sam’s Club (1); natural foods stores Whole Foods (1) and PCC (1), and one small market, Ken’s Market (1).

In the study local and organic chicken did not prove to be safer than other samples. In terms of origination, 59 chicken samples originated from Washington, while 13 samples came from other states and 28 were of unknown origin. Regardless of place, chicken from every state tested was confirmed to contain potentially harmful bacteria.  Of the 14 samples of organic chicken 12 contained harmful bacteria.

The study tested for five pathogens.  While some findings were typical, other results were more surprising.  Previous studies have found on average that 33 to 53% of chicken is contaminated with Campylobacter.  In Seattle 65% of the chicken tested positive for Campylobacter.  Salmonella was isolated in 19% of the chicken purchased at retail stores in the Seattle area, slightly higher than the expected average of 16%.  Staphylococcus aureus was found in 42% of the chicken sampled; 10 of these samples were Methicillan-resistant, commonly known as MRSA.  One sample cultured positive for Listeria monocytogenes and one sample cultured positive for E. coli O26, a bacteria often found in beef.

As of November 24, a total of 68 persons infected with the outbreak strains of Salmonella Enteritidis have been reported from 10 states. The number of ill people identified in each state is as follows: Connecticut (4), Maine (3), Massachusetts (31), Montana (1), New Hampshire (4), New York (5), Ohio (1), Pennsylvania (10), Rhode Island (6), and Vermont (3). The one ill person from Montana traveled to the Eastern United States during the period when likely exposure occurred.

Illness onset dates range from September 30, 2014 to November 10, 2014. Ill persons range in age from younger than one year to 83 years, with a median age of 31 years. Fifty-six percent of ill persons are female. Among 43 persons with available information, 11 (26%) have been hospitalized, and no deaths have been reported.

Collaborative investigation efforts of state, local, and federal public health and regulatory agencies indicate that bean sprouts produced by Wonton Foods, Inc. are the likely source of this outbreak.

The information available to date indicates that bean sprouts produced by Wonton Foods, Inc. may be contaminated with Salmonella and are not safe to eat. As of November 21, 2014, the firm has verbally agreed to voluntarily stop the production and sale of their bean sprouts.

I pulled this off of Huffington Post:

Brave is the little girl who sits by herself at the breakfast table while I pack her lunch or take a shower. No longer a chatty, noisy morning, but one spent in quiet loneliness.

Brave is the young woman, biting her lip to hold back tears in her AP English class, as they discuss loss and love in The Poisonwood Bible. Knowing, better than the teacher, what the author hoped to get across.

Brave is the man who goes to the office every morning, knowing he will return to a fraction of his family. Who smiles at stories of co-workers’ children and remains genuinely interested, though he knows he will never have new stories to tell about his son.

Brave is what we call someone who faces their fears and perseveres through a difficult challenge. So, I guess I fit that definition. I have spent the last four months living every parent’s worst fear and I get up every morning and keep going.

There are no eloquent words to describe the pain of losing a child. It is unending. It feels exactly as you would imagine it would, but worse. Having grown a child inside of my body, it was hard enough to have him away from me in life. To have him gone from this earth is beyond unbearable. I understand why some parents become reclusive after losing a child, but I feel the need to do something. For me, it is harder to stay in bed and cry. They say that ” life goes on” and it is true. Though it seems impossible, the earth keeps spinning, the sun keeps shining, the seasons change and we have to make the choice to keep moving forward. I will keep my son, Joshua, with me every step of the way. The love I have for him will never fade. It will infuse everything that I do.

Joshua died on July 7 after a 13-day battle with E. coli 0157H7, which he contracted from eating contaminated grass-fed ground beef. My husband and I are working to improve Food Safety and Public Health protocol. We are working to make changes at the national level, as well as holding production facilities and retail establishments accountable for the safety of the food they produce and provide.

We have started a foundation in Joshua’s name to continue his passion for helping animals and children around the world. We will also work with other families who have lost children, to remember their children with a community service project that is meaningful to them.

Really, I just don’t know what else to do. My girls need me to show them that there can be happiness, even if it will never be as great as it would have been with Josh.

There is work to be done, love to be given, and joy to be spread.

Thanks Melissa, Josh would be very proud.

On Saturday afternoon FSIS announced that Ranchers Legacy Meat Co., of Vadnais Heights, Minnesota was recalling 1,200 pounds of ground beef products that may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.

Products subject to the recall are packaged in plastic cryovac sealed packets, and contain various weights of ground beef.  All products produced on Nov. 19, 2014 are subject to recall.

All of the following have a Package Code (use by) 12/10/2014 and bear the establishment number “Est. 40264” inside the USDA mark of inspection. Individual products include:

  • Ranchers Legacy Ground Beef Patties 77/23
  • Ranchers Legacy Ground Chuck Patties 80/20
  • Ranchers Legacy USDA Choice Ground Beef 80/20
  • Ranchers Legacy USDA Choice WD Beef Patties 80/20
  • Ranchers Legacy RD Beef Patties 80/20
  • OTG Manufacturing Chuck/Brisket RD Patties
  • Ranchers Legacy Chuck Blend Oval Beef Patties
  • Ranchers Legacy WD Chuck Blend Patties
  • Ranchers Legacy USDA Choice NAT Beef Patties 80/20
  • Ranchers Legacy NAT Beef Patties 80/20
  • Ranchers Legacy USDA Choice NAT Beef Patties 80/20
  • Ranchers Legacy Ground Chuck Blend
  • Ranchers Legacy Chuck Blend Bulk Pack NAT Patties
  • Ranchers Legacy Chuck Blend NAT Beef Patties

The product was discovered by FSIS inspection personnel during a routine inspection. Products testing positive on November 21, 2014 were held at the establishment.  The products being recalled were produced on the same day and equipment as the positive product.  Products were shipped to distributors for sales nationwide.

FSIS and the company are concerned that some product may be frozen and in consumers’ freezers. FSIS and the company have received no reports of illnesses associated with consumption of these products.

Thanks to those working late on Friday.

As of November 21, 2014, the CDC reports a total of 63 persons infected with the outbreak strains of Salmonella Enteritidis have been reported from 10 states: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont. The one ill person from Montana traveled to the Eastern United States during the period when likely exposure occurred.

Illness onset dates range from September 30, 2014 to November 8, 2014. Among 42 persons with available information, 11 (26%) have been hospitalized, and no deaths have been reported.

Collaborative investigation efforts of state, local, and federal public health and regulatory agencies indicate that bean sprouts produced by Wonton Foods, Inc. are the likely source of this outbreak.

The information available to date indicates that bean sprouts produced by Wonton Foods, Inc. may be contaminated with Salmonella and are not safe to eat. As of November 21, 2014, the firm has verbally agreed to voluntarily stop the production and sale of their bean sprouts.

CDC recommends that restaurants and other retailers do not sell or serve bean sprouts produced by Wonton Foods, Inc. at this time. CDC recommends that consumers do not eat bean sprouts produced by Wonton Foods, Inc. at this time.

Time for a Warning?

Three people in Vermont and four people in New Hampshire have been sickened by Salmonella believed to be associated with bean sprouts, health officials in the two states said Friday.

According to the Vermont Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control reported Friday (not yet on its website) that 63 people in 10 states have become ill as part of the outbreak. Eleven people were hospitalized and none have died. Health officials in Vermont said three of the cases were in Vermont, and New Hampshire said it has four associated cases.

The CDC said a review of records and invoices at restaurants in the northeast where people became ill shows they ate bean sprouts from Wonton Food, Inc. of Brooklyn, New York.

“The investigation by state and federal partners is still underway, but consumers should avoid eating bean sprouts grown and sold by Wonton Food, Inc.,” the Vermont Department of Health said. “Restaurants and grocery stores have been advised not to serve or sell bean sprouts from this firm.”

Earlier the Massachusetts Department of Public Health announced that it was investigating a possible Salmonella cluster in Massachusetts and across state lines.

Infection with Salmonella typically causes diarrhea, vomiting, fever and abdominal cramps. Illness can be severe and require hospitalization. Young children, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems are more likely to develop severe illness. It can be fatal without prompt treatment.

My friends at Barf Blog document at least 55 sprout-associated outbreaks occurring worldwide affecting a total of 15,233 people since 1988.

As far back as September 1998, FDA issued a warning against sprouts urging:

Children, pregnant women and the elderly should not eat alfalfa sprouts until growers find a way to reduce the risk of a potentially deadly bacteria that infects some sprouts, the Food and Drug Administration said this week. The FDA, which is investigating sprout industry practices, said children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems should avoid eating sprouts.

Here is the CDC warning :

Sprouts Not Healthy Food for Everyone

Children, the elderly, and persons whose immune systems are not functioning well should not eat raw sprouts, because current treatments of seeds and sprouts cannot get rid of all bacteria present.

Persons who are at high risk for complications from foodborne illness should probably not eat raw sprouts, according to an article in the current issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases, CDC’s peer-reviewed journal, which tracks new and reemerging infectious diseases worldwide.

Although sprouts are often considered a “health food,” the warm, humid conditions needed for growing sprouts from seeds are also ideal for bacteria to flourish. Salmonella, E. coli, and other bacteria can grow to high levels without affecting the appearance of the sprouts.

Researchers have treated both seeds and sprouts with heat or washed them in solutions of chlorine, alcohol, and other chemicals. Some of these disinfectants reduced the levels of bacteria, but a potential hazard remained, especially for persons with weak immune systems. High temperatures that would kill the bacteria on the seeds would also keep them from sprouting. Until an effective way is found to prevent illness from sprouts, they should be eaten with caution, if at all.

Boston’s Fox 25 News reports that Massachusetts state and federal health officials are looking into cases of salmonella that have been reported in multiple states.

The Massachusetts Department of Health confirmed on Thursday afternoon that the agency, along with the Centers for Disease Control and Food and Drug Administration, are investigating a potential multi-state salmonella cluster.”

The CDC defines a cluster as a “larger number of people than expected appear to have the same illness in a given time period and area.”

Although the investigation is underway, as of Thursday none of the cases have been tied directly to one source, according to the Mass.DPH No cases have been directly tied to a source at this time.