September 2015

worthy-burger-logoAt least one of the nine E. coli O157:H7 victims has developed hemolytic uremic syndrome – HUS.

John P. Gregg, Valley News Staff Writer, wrote late yesterday that the State of Vermont Department of Health has isolated E. coli, presumably, O157:H7, from an “unopened packaged beef at a South Royalton restaurant and believe that undercooked hamburgers at Worthy Burger were the source of an E. coli contamination that sickened several people in late summer,…”

Also, according to Gregg, “Bradley Tompkins, a health surveillance epidemiologist with the Department of Health, also said two more cases of E. coli have been linked to people who dined at the restaurant, and that there now are six confirmed and three probable cases of E. coli in the Vermont outbreak. All have recovered, although to varying degrees, he said.”

Interestingly, Gregg also reported that, “When they tried to grow the E. coli in the lab, however, it came out to be a slightly different strain than the one found in the patients from Vermont. Still, Tompkins said, the department believes the beef is to blame.”

There has been no recall – yet – and the source of the beef has not been named – yet.

This story is not yet over.

Here is an update:  E. Coli Infections Continue in Vt. | Valley News

epi-curve-09-29-2015The CDC, multiple states, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are investigating a multistate outbreak of Salmonella Poona infections. 671 people infected with the outbreak strains of Salmonella Poona have been reported from 34 states, an increase of 113 cases since the last update on September 22. 131 ill people have been hospitalized, and three deaths have been reported from Arizona (1), California (1), and Texas (1).  51% of ill people are children younger than 18 years.

Epidemiologic, laboratory, and traceback investigations have identified cucumbers imported from Mexico and distributed by Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce as a likely source of the infections in this outbreak.

Recalled cucumbers were distributed in the states of Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah. Further distribution to other states may have occurred.

Consumers should not eat, restaurants should not serve, and retailers should not sell any of the recalled cucumbers. If you aren’t sure if your cucumbers were recalled, ask the place of purchase or your supplier. When in doubt, don’t eat, sell, or serve them and throw them out.

Screen Shot 2015-09-04 at 9.19.00 PMThis dropped into my inbox this morning:

Andrew and Williamson Announces Support for New STOP Foodborne Illness Campaign to Improve Diagnoses

On behalf of every employee at our company, we want consumers to understand that we are absolutely devastated by the three deaths and illnesses that have been reported in the media. We want you to know that we are continuing our collaborative work with federal and state agencies in the U.S. and Mexico, and have engaged leading food safety experts to analyze our processes and add to our existing expertise. When we find the problem, we will fix it and take every step possible to keep it from happening again.

A&W is a family company, working here isn’t just about what we do, it is an important part of who we are. The very foundation of our company is based on ensuring the quality of the fresh produce we grow, ship and sell. And I know the state-of-the-art growers we partner with in Mexico share the same passion for protecting consumer health and safety.

On a personal note, in reading information about the illnesses, it was clear that many doctors need additional guidance to ensure the timely diagnosis and treatment of food-borne illnesses. With that in mind, we will be making a donation to STOP Foodborne Illness, a non-profit organization devoted to assisting those impacted by foodborne illness. This donation is in support of STOP’s efforts to create an educational packet about foodborne illness to send to every pediatric emergency room and hospital in the U.S. so that patients receive a timely diagnosis and proper treatment.

While we recognize that our actions cannot alleviate the pain caused by a victim’s suffering or worse, the loss of a loved one, the A&W family promises you that we will learn from this experience. We will never forget what happened. And you can rest assured that our food safety decisions will forever be influenced by the memory of consumers who have been impacted by this recall.

As we have learned more about STOP Foodborne Illness and the work that they do, we hope other produce companies will consider donating to this organization and this effort to help educate health professionals so diagnoses can be made more quickly to alleviate suffering and save lives.

David Murray, Partner
Andrew and Williamson

2g91hmtyAs of September 25th, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control announced it has provided 4,809 vaccinations through its hepatitis A vaccine clinics in Spartanburg and Greenville.

Vaccinations are being offered to individuals who might have been exposed to hepatitis A at two Hardee’s restaurants located in Spartanburg County. The restaurants are located at 12209 Greenville Highway in Lyman and 1397 E. Main St. in Duncan.

To serve customers and staff, DHEC will operate a clinic at the Spartanburg County Health Department on Saturday, September 26th from 9 a.m. to noon. Clinic operations will continue on Monday, September 28th.

Customers and staff who, as of September 25th, ate at the Lyman-area restaurant September 11th through September 15th, or the Duncan-area restaurant September 11th through September 13th, should receive post-exposure treatment for hepatitis A. Post-exposure treatment is recommended for individuals if it can be administered less than two weeks from their date of consuming anything from the restaurants.

Customers and staff who ate at the restaurants between August 31st and September 10th are not likely to benefit from post-exposure treatment. Anyone who ate at these Hardee’s restaurants between these dates should watch for symptoms of infection, such as nausea, vomiting, and jaundice, which is yellowing of the eyes and skin. Seek medical care if symptoms develop.

F&O-LOGO-warmgreyTwo Lawsuits filed thus far in Washington D.C.

From the Los Angeles Acute Communicable Disease and Control:

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (Public Health) is participating in a multi-state investigation of Salmonella infections among patrons of the Fig & Olive restaurant, West Hollywood. Twenty persons meeting a clinical definition for Salmonella reported eating at this restaurant between September 6 and September 11, 2015.  Of these, seven have been confirmed by laboratory tests detecting the Salmonella.  Investigation of the cases and their exposures (the foods they ate) is ongoing.  In addition to patrons of the restaurant, three restaurant employees were identified with the same Salmonella type.

A cluster of cases with the same Salmonella type also occurred in Washington, DC and was associated with eating at the Fig & Olive restaurant there from late August through early-September.

This ongoing investigation is being coordinated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with participation by the Food and Drug Administration, and several state and local health departments including Public Health.

From the DC Department of Health (DOH) and Department of Forensic Sciences (DFS):

The DC Department of Health (DOH) and Department of Forensic Sciences (DFS) are in close collaboration, continuing the surveillance, testing and reporting of food samples from the DC Fig and Olive food establishment.  To date, DFS has tested 45 food samples and  15 environmental samples that have yielded negative Salmonella isolates; ten food samples are pending. To date, DFS has confirmed and reported that eleven human specimens, from DC hospitals, have yielded positive results for Salmonella Enteritidis and their DNA typing’s have been shared with the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and have been linked to this outbreak.

Several other states with Fig and Olive restaurants are reporting Salmonella cases.  At this time, the CDC has confirmed that this is now a multiple state investigation tied to Fig and Olive food establishments and is working closely with each jurisdiction to assess the cases, analyze test results and identify possible trends or correlations. All inquiries regarding this national investigation should be directed to the CDC.

As of Wednesday, September 23, 2015, DOH has confirmed 14 cases of salmonella tied back to the DC Fig and Olive establishment. Interviews of those who reported illnesses are ongoing, to date, DOH has interviewed 135 persons.

worthy-burger-logoMatt Hongoltz-Hetling and Jordan Cuddemi of the New Hampshire Valley News report that Vermont Health officials are investigating a cluster of E. coli O157:H7 cases and warning physicians to watch for more cases.

According to Hongoltz-Hetling, Vermont health officials are warning clinicians to be on the lookout for signs of E. coli, after at least five Vermont residents contracted infections caused by the food-borne bacteria. The locations of the five laboratory-confirmed cases, and a sixth case listed as “probable,” were not divulged by the Vermont Department of Health, which asked doctors to report instances of patients with diarrhea, nausea, stomach cramps and vomiting to state health officials immediately.

According to Cuddemi, a South Royalton, Vermont restaurant voluntarily closed for several days recently and switched food vendors after being contacted by state officials who are investigating an E. coli “cluster” that has sickened at least five people.

Jason Merrill, executive chef at Worthy Burger, said the Vermont Department of Health approached the restaurant’s leadership team last week and asked them to consider changing some of their food vendors out of precaution.

2g91hmtyThe South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) today announced it has provided 4,295 vaccinations through its hepatitis A vaccine clinics in Spartanburg and Greenville.  Vaccinations are being offered to individuals who might have been exposed to hepatitis A at two Hardee’s restaurants located in Spartanburg County. The restaurants are located at 12209 Greenville Highway in Lyman and 1397 E. Main St. in Duncan. DHEC’s Spartanburg and Greenville county health departments will continue to provide post-exposure treatments Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., through September 29, 2015.

Customers and staff who, as of today, ate at the Lyman-area restaurant between Sept. 9 and Sept. 15, 2015, or the Duncan-area restaurant between Sept. 9 and Sept. 13, 2015, should receive post-exposure treatment for hepatitis A.

As of today, customers and staff who ate at the restaurants between Aug. 31 and Sept. 8 are not likely to benefit from post-exposure treatment. Anyone who ate at these Hardee’s restaurants between these dates should watch for symptoms of infection, such as nausea, vomiting, and jaundice, which is yellowing of the eyes and skin. Seek medical care if symptoms develop.

Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 3.04.16 PMEpidemiologic, laboratory, and traceback investigations have identified cucumbers imported from Mexico and distributed by Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce as a likely source of the infections in this outbreak.

As of September 21, 2015, a total of 558 people infected with the outbreak strains of Salmonella Poona have been reported from 33 states. The number of ill people reported from each state is as follows: Alaska (12), Arizona (95), Arkansas (8), California (120), Colorado (17), Hawaii (1), Idaho (20), Illinois (8), Indiana (2), Iowa (1), Kansas (2), Kentucky (1), Louisiana (4), Minnesota (29), Missouri (9), Montana (14), Nebraska (5), Nevada (11), New Mexico (27), New York (5), North Dakota (3), Ohio (2), Oklahoma (12), Oregon (17), Pennsylvania (2), South Carolina (8), South Dakota (1), Texas (24), Utah (46), Virginia (1), Washington (18), Wisconsin (29), and Wyoming (4).

Among people for whom information is available, illnesses started on dates ranging from July 3, 2015 to September 11, 2015. Ill people range in age from less than 1 year to 99, with a median age of 16. Fifty-two percent of ill people are children younger than 18 years. Fifty-four percent of ill people are female. Among 387 people with available information, 112 (29%) report being hospitalized. Three deaths have been reported from Arizona (1), California (1) and Texas (1).

Screen Shot 2015-09-16 at 9.50.32 AM“If that’s not criminal behavior, I don’t know what is.”

Sitting on a plane heading home to Seattle, I am still a bit stunned by the sentenced carried out yesterday in a Federal Courtroom in Georgia.

I was looking for the first time I raised the issue of prosecuting Stewart Parnell. I found it in a blog post from January 2009, shortly after the announcement of the outbreak and the recall and during the time when I was being briefly considered for a food safety position in the Obama Administration. Here is the post from the past:

While the Washington Post pondered if I would actually move from Seattle to Washington DC, yet another food recall was happening in the other – actual states.  Here is a “round-up” of a few choice quotes:

Minneapolis Star-Tribune

Bill Marler, a Seattle attorney who has been suing food makers for years on behalf of people who get sick, said he’s never seen a company accused of shipping products that tested positive for a foodborne pathogen. “It’s insane,” he said. “You have to ask, what are these people thinking when the product is going into institutional settings with kids and older people? It’s just unconscionable.”

New York Times

The report from the inspection, first posted on the Internet by Bill Marler, a lawyer, cites 12 instances in 2007 and 2008 in which the company’s own tests of its product found contamination by salmonella.

Burlington Free Press

After obtaining a damning FDA report on PCA and posting it on his Web site, www.marlerblog.com, Marler added demands for unspecified punitive damages to the Meunier lawsuit. “We do not allege punitive damages in most cases. Just the most egregious,” Marler wrote on his blog Wednesday. “In fifteen years of litigating food cases, this is one of the worst examples of corporate responsibility I have ever seen.”

ABC Evening News

“If this doesn’t rise to a criminal level I don’t know what does,” food safety attorney Bill Marler told ABC News on Wednesday. Marler is suing the company on behalf of one consumer. Marler’s current advice? “I would think twice right now about giving a peanut butter product of any kind to someone under the age of 5 or over the age of 70.”

The FDA inspections also documented unsanitary conditions at the plant, including cockroaches, mold and leaking roofs. “This is one of the worst inspection reports I’ve seen in 15 years of practice,” Marler said.

As numbers climb higher, people like Marler are questioning the government’s ability to keep food safe as products make their way through a complex supply chain from farms to grocery store shelves to kitchen pantries. Today Marler said it’s key for the government to step up its efforts and require “across-the-board bacterial and viral testing on all ready-to-eat products. The reality is that, frankly, U.S. companies do a marvelous job at poisoning our own citizens,” Marler said. “Our focus on imported products are frankly misplaced given the fact that most food-borne illness outbreaks that occur in the United States are caused by homegrown companies.”

Scientific American

“It’s inconceivable that the FDA or the state of Georgia allowed a plant like this to operate,” says Seattle personal-injury attorney Bill Marler, who sued PCA in federal court in Albany, Ga., last week on behalf of a 7-year-old boy who got sick after eating salmonella-tainted peanut butter. “This company … got positive tests and shipped it in any event. If that’s not criminal behavior, I don’t know what is.”