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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Another Macomb County Michigan Salmonella Outbreak: It was the Cannolis

The facts of this most unfortunate incident were well covered in the report issued by the Macomb County Health Department on May 1, 2002.  Of note, the illnesses were “associated with the consumption of cannolis and cassata cake from Black Forest Cakes and Pastries.”

Laboratory investigation showed that 46 stool cultures tested positive for Salmonella enteritidis, as did 4 leftover food samples. Six culture isolates (4 stool specimens and 2 food samples) were sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for phange typing. All 6 isolates were identified as Salmonella enteritidis phange type 8. This was significant because it convincingly shows that the source of the illnesses was the bakery products and that the illness has a common source.

According to the report, during the early spring of this year “an outbreak of Salmonella enteritidis infections resulted in 196 reported ill persons, 24 of which required hospitalization.”

The report concluded that Black Forest Cakes and Pastries were the source of the Salmonella enteritidis outbreak. Specifically, the report stated that the epidemiologic analysis established a statistically significant association between illness and the consumption of cannolis, cassata cake or both. How the bacteria were introduced into the bakery could not be determined. “Once introduced, improper sanitation, food storage and preparation practices were the most likely causes for the dissemination of the bacteria in the facility and the subsequent outbreak of illnesses.”

The “Environmental Assessment” published by the Michigan Department of Agriculture documented serious concerns about Black Forest’s sanitation practices. In part, it was found that these “practices were insufficient to prevent cross contamination once the Salmonella enteritidis was introduced into the facility.  Specific practices that could have perpetuated cross contamination included:

  • Lack of sanitizing of equipment, utensils, and food contact surfaces,
  • Drying surfaces and utensils with shared towels, and inadequate emphasis on frequent and effective hand washing.
  • The assessment also found fault in Black Forest’s ability to properly cool the cannoli filling as a way to reduce bacterial growth.

It has been my experience in outbreak litigation that juries invariably believe the unbiased reports of the state health investigators. Here the report painted a bleak picture of Black Forest’s practices as being the cause of so many unnecessary illnesses.

One interesting note, I was taking the deposition of the owner of the bakery on behalf of the several dozen people I represented and he brought with him about a dozen cannolis for the court reporter and the several other lawyers in attendance.  The owner and I were the only ones who ate one each.  The others went untouched – even by the baker’s lawyer.