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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Some PR Advise to Nestle – Pay the E. coli Victims Medical Bills and Lost Wages

I know I sound a bit like a broken record asking yet another company to step up and admit they have a problem, pay the victims’ medical bills and lost wages, and then focus on how the problem happened and how to prevent it from ever happening again. True, it will not completely prevent then from being sued to both uncover why the outbreak happened and to deal with the suffering of the victims and the need for possible future medical expenses that might well include life time monitoring, kidney dialysis and transplant, but it certainly will not hurt.

E. coli O157:H7 is a nasty, nasty bug. It sickens 75,000 in the U.S. annually, hospitalizing thousands and killing nearly 100 – each and every year. Medical bills can run from a few hundred to millions, yes millions of dollars. Parents can spend weeks away from work and some loose their jobs. These customers did what they were supposed to do. They bought the company’s product, consumed it and now are left with medical bills and lost wages for eating something as simple as cookie dough.

Nestle, you did the right thing by recalling product the moment the FDA and CDC linked your product to illnesses. Doing it likely saved others from suffering what now some 70 people in 30 states have experienced first hand. But, the right thing is still not complete.

I admit most companies ignore my PR advice forged by 16 years of being involved in every major foodborne illness outbreak from Jack-in-the-Box (JITB) to Nestle. However, some companies have done it (JITB in 1993, Odwalla in 1996, Conagra in 2002 and Natural Selection Foods (NSF) in 2006) and frankly, for the most part they were praised by the media for “doing the right thing.” The companies also (some took a bit longer than others) became leaders in trying to prevent the next outbreak. JITB (Dave Theno) became famous for putting food safety above all, Odwalla championed juice pasteurization, NSF is recognized as a leader in testing product for pathogens and Conagra invited me to speak to its Food Safety Council.

I sued Nestle on Monday in California, Tuesday in Colorado and Wednesday in Washington. I could sue them every day for the next three weeks. However, perhaps I could stop for a moment to give Nestle an opportunity to consider my sage advice. The reality is that Nestle will eventually pay for all the damages caused to those linked by health officials to its cookie dough (Nestle certainly should not pay for unrelated illnesses). The real questions are will Nestle do it now, continue its work on the recall and its cooperation with FDA and CDC, and work to prevent the next outbreak? Time will tell.