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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Update – In Washington State Thurston and Pierce Counties at Least Ten Sick by E. coli O157:H7 Contaminated Romaine Lettuce

According to the Washington State Department of Health, nine Thurston and Pierce county adults and children fell ill in May with stool culture confirmed E. coli O157:H7 infections that appear to have come from contaminated romaine lettuce served in either a school or restaurant setting.  A 10th person, who was ill but who was not tested, also consumed romaine lettuce.

Six of those who fell ill were Pierce County residents.  Two were hospitalized.  Some or all of the ill ate salads at Pacific Lutheran University.

In Thurston County, all four victims were teenagers. Three attend Olympia’s Capital High School.  The fourth goes to Marshall Middle School.

Officials have not yet discovered the source of the romaine lettuce.  So far the investigation has narrowed to three produce distributors which source from California.  In other words – “the noose tightens.”

The Salinas Californian jumped into the hunt this morning (by reading my blog)

An E. coli outbreak in Washington State linked to romaine lettuce by health authorities has Salinas Valley growers nervous.

In late May, at least nine people – a possible tenth went untested – were sickened by E. coli bacteria in two counties in the Puget Sound area of Washington State. Officials for the Washington State Department of Health are pointing to romaine lettuce served in educational institutions as the source of contamination, according to www.marlerblog.com, published by Bill Marler, the Seattle-based lawyer who represents many of those sickened in a 2006 E. coli outbreak traced back to Central Coast bagged spinach salad.

While the source of the romaine is unknown, at this time of year it is likely to have come from the Salinas Valley, said Dennis Donohue, chairman of the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California and Salinas mayor.

  • Here is an email I just received:
    The increasing occurrence of E. coli 0157:H7 found in fresh produce is alarming, and there has not been enough media and industry attention paid to this most recent report. In an earlier article, Romaine lettuce was reported as the contaminated productin this instance, but I’m not certain that this has been verified. The only other report of that I have found of E. coli 0157:H7 in Romaine lettuce was in ‘Spokane Brand’ in late July, 2002. I don’t know where that lettuce was grown, but the brand name and time of year might suggest that it was from the state of Washington.
    It does not appear that the lettuce industry and government agencies is vigorously investigating this recent E. coli 0157:H7 incident, and this is a major error. Earlier reports of E. coli 0157:H7 in packaged spinach and lettuce salads were investigated relatively thoroughly, apparently because of the large number of consumers affected, but the identification of contaminating source(s) was hindered because of the additional handling of those products. It should be much easier to identify the source of contamination in (head) Romaine lettuce.
    There is a legal requirement for the ability to “traceback” fresh produce items from the final customer to the packer and even to the farm site. This whould be much easier with a (single) head lettuce item than with a mixed lettuce salad or spinach which would have passed through a large (sanitizing) packing facility.
    THE PUBLIC DESERVES MORE ATTENTION BY THE PRODUCE INDUSTRY AND BY GOVERNMENT AGENCIES ITOTHIS RECENT CASE BECAUSE I WILL HELP RESOLVE THE TOTAL ISSUE:
    Were all of the E coli isolates identified in this incident of the same strain?
    Has this E coli strain been observed in earlier incidents; if so, where is it from?
    Which growers and packers are involved with the present incident?
    Is Salinas, CA the source of the present contamination incident?
    Is Romaine the specific product identified?
    And finally, why is the ‘Traceback’ system not performing as it was supposed to?
    You would be doing a public service to your readers if you “re-phrased” this letter and challenged the fresh produce industry, as well as FDA and State agricultural/health agencies to do what they have been promising for several years.