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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Dole sued for outbreak

As Dania Akkad of the Herald Salinas Bureau reported today, legal action is mounting in connection to a recent E. coli outbreak that affected at least 17 people who said they became sick after eating Dole Fresh Vegetable bagged salads.
From the article:

A lawsuit has been filed against parent company Dole Food Company Inc. on behalf of a Minnesota couple sickened last month after eating bagged salads from the company made with Salinas Valley produce.
Another lawsuit, involving an elderly Oregon woman who was hospitalized for five days after eating Dole salad with the same use-by date as the plaintiffs in Minnesota, was expected to be filed today, said Bill Marler, an attorney with Marler Clark law firm in Seattle.

According to the lawsuits, Dole breached its promise with the plaintiffs, “through its sale of food to the public and by the statements and conduct of its employees and agents that the food it prepared and sold was fit for human consumption and not otherwise adulterated or injurious to health.”
The three plaintiffs experienced symptoms ranging from severe gastrointestinal pain to diarrhea and abdominal cramps. Stool samples from the Oregon woman and a person in Minnesota were genetic matches with E. coli 0157:H7 bacteria isolated from salad products they ate, the lawsuits say.
Eric Schwartz, president of Salinas-based Dole Fresh Vegetable, acknowledged the lawsuits Tuesday, but said company policy prevented him from commenting on pending litigation.
No other parties involved in the distribution or production of the bagged salads — including Roundy’s Supermarket Inc., which owns the grocery store chain in Minnesota where several of the people affected bought the products — are named in the lawsuits.
“We certainly know that Dole may bring them in,” Marler said. But from the standpoint of one of the people sickened in the incident, he said, the exact source of the product contamination is unimportant.
“If you are a manufacturer,” Marler said, “and you sell a product that has a pathogen on it, it’s your fault.”
The outbreak in question effected at least 17 people in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area who ate one of three Dole bagged salads at the end of September and were infected with E. coli 0157:H7, the most dangerous strain of the bacteria.
On Oct. 2, the Food and Drug Administration issued an alert to consumers against eating the affected Dole products that had been distributed nationwide and is performing a traceback investigation to find the source of the contamination.
Marler said Tuesday that he has been contacted by five other people who were sickened in Minnesota and may file lawsuits on their behalf.
This is the fourth E. coli 0157:H7 outbreak connected to produce grown in the Salinas Valley since 2002. Three other cases, reported between July 2002 and October 2003, involved contaminated lettuce and spinach that sickened at least 114 people and killed an elderly woman.
Marler Clark attorneys have represented a majority of the sickened people in earlier outbreaks who have taken legal action.
State investigators, unable to pinpoint the origin of the bacteria in those cases that spawned lawsuits up and down the distribution chain, released a report last week focusing primarily on the area’s agricultural ditches and flooding of fields with ready-to-eat crops.
A multi-agency study led by the California Department of Health Services and involving Monterey County health officials will continue this year in an effort to examine water from local ditches during a yearlong period.