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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Canadian Family to Sue Tanimura & Antle for Romaine Lettuce E. coli Death

In August 2012, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) isolated E. coli O157:H7 in a sample of Tanimura & Antle romaine lettuce collected on August 8, 2012.  This finding prompted CFIA to issue a “Health Hazard Alert” notice on August 17, 2012 warning the public to not consume Tanimura & Antle brand romaine lettuce, UPC 0 27918 20314 9.[1]  The alert was expanded to include additional distribution information on August 20, 2012.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (USDA) posted a notice that on August 19 Tanimura & Antle was recalling “Wrapped Single Head Romaine.”[2]  Genetic testing by Pulsed Field Gel Electrophoresis (PFGE) identified the strain of E. coli O157 found in the Tanimura & Antle sample as “ECXA1.1775/ECBN1.0012.”  See PFGE, Attachment No. 1.  This was a rare strain, not seen in Canada since 2009.  The CFIA announcement noted that there had been “no reported illnesses associated with consumption of this product.”  Unfortunately, this assessment would prove to be tragically incorrect.  Two Canadians—a person in Ontario and a person in Alberta were identified as being infected with strain ECXA1.1775/ECBN1.0012.  Gail Bernacki was the Alberta resident identified as being a genetic match to the E. coli O157 strain found in Tanimura & Antle romaine lettuce.

On August 23, 2012, Mrs. Bernacki experienced onset of vomiting and diarrhea.  Her stool specimen collected at Rockyview General Hospital on August 26 was culture positive for E. coli O157:H7.  She eventually died on January 16th, 2013, leaving her husband, three children and a large, loving family.

Genetic testing by Pulsed Field Gel Electrophoresis (PFGE) showed that Gail Bernacki was infected with E. coli O157:H7 strain ECXA1.1775/ECBN1.0012.  See Bernacki Completed NDR Interview Form, Alberta Health Services, Attachment No. 2.  CFIA analyzed a “partial head of Tanimura and Antle Romaine Lettuce UPC 0 27918 20314 9” from the Bernacki home on September 2012.  E. coli O157:H7 was not isolated in the uneaten portion of the lettuce but it is clear that the contaminated product was in the Bernacki home and that a portion had been consumed.  See CFIA Report of Analysis, Food Products Sampling Submission, Attachment No. 3.

Noted foodborne illness epidemiologist, Dr. John Kobayashi, reviewed the facts of the outbreak and Mrs. Bernacki’s E. coli O157:H7 infection.  Dr. Kobayashi opined on a more probable than not basis that Gail Bernacki was ill with an E. coli O157:H7 infection and that the source of her infection was Tanimura and Antle Romaine, which was contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.  See Expert Report of John Kobayashi, MD, Attachment No. 4.

Suit will be filed in Federal Court in California.  Download complaint.