No, really – keep reading. 

According to the Illinois Department of Health, the outbreak of Salmonella sicknesses in Illinois linked to Subway restaurants is spreading. To date, there are 68 confirmed cases, of which 24 had been hospitalized. People with the illness reported eating at Subway locations in central Illinois 24 counties.

According to the CDC, for every one person who is a stool-culture confirmed positive victim of salmonella in the United States, there a multiple of 38.5 who are also sick, but remain uncounted. (See, AC Voetsch, “FoodNet estimate of the burden of illness caused by nontyphoidal Salmonella infections in the United States,”Clinical Infectious Diseases 2004;38 (Suppl 3):S127-34). This means that in this Subway Salmonella Hvittingfoss outbreak of 68 (this number is bound to rise), we are missing 2,550 people so far.

A few critical questions to ask Subway:

1.  Didn’t you just have a Shigella outbreak?

2.  Given that this Salmonella outbreak is in 24 counties, and you recalled various vegetables (lettuce), will you also name your suppliers and tell us if you had any requirement for product testing?

3.  Will you commit to paying for the medical expenses and lost wages of your sickened customers?

My wife and 16-year-old daughter spent the week at the Democratic National Convention.  Me, I took our other 13-year-old and 9-year-old daughters to Hawaii for a few days in the surf and sun.  Yes, we did go to a laua – picture below the main course.

OK, I get asked all the time what I eat and do not eat – yes, I ate it.  My kids, however, kept asking why they killed and cooked Wilbur?  So, a little bit of an experiment in food illness surveillance?  It has been 48 hours since I ate Wilbur, let’s see how it goes.  If the pig is contaminated with listeria, I have a long time to wait with the incubation period running up to a month. 

As the Canadian Public Health Agency says, 29 cases of listeriosis have been confirmed nationally, and another 31 suspected cases are being investigated.  Maple Leaf, the manufacturer of the contaminated product, has ordered the return of all products made at the plant from nursing homes, hospitals, restaurants and stores, in one of Canada’s biggest food recalls.  For more information on Listeria, see www.about-listeria.com.

And for more worries North of the border, Salmonella kills one, leaves 87 ill in Quebec
Cheese Recall.
  A salmonella outbreak in Quebec has left one person dead and 87 others sick, prompting the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to recall three cheeses manufactured by Fromages La Chaudiere Inc.  Blocks of hard cheese, as well as cheese curds labelled La Chaudiere, Polo and Tradition, manufactured between July 24 and Aug. 24, have been pulled off store shelves as they may be contaminated with salmonella.  The outbreak has centred in three regions of Quebec — Chaudiere Appalaches, Estrie and Mauricie Centre du Quebec — but the cheeses have a wide distribution throughout the province, Horacio Arruda, Quebec’s director of public health, said in a news conference yesterday in Montreal.  Over the past week, a total of six cheeses have been pulled from store shelves across the province. In addition to the three cheeses recalled on Thursday, three other cheeses were recalled earlier this week because they may contain listeria.  For more information on salmonella, see www.about-salmonella.com.

Today’s Daily Report, an Atlanta-area legal journal, reported on the ConAgra Peter Pan and Great Value peanut butter litigation.  In the Daily Report, writer Robin McDonald mentioned Marler Clark’s role in the litigation:

The other plaintiffs’ lawyer is Seattle attorney William D. Marler, who has built his reputation by successfully litigating on behalf of thousands of people sickened by E. coli, salmonella, Listeria and other food-borne illnesses.

Marler’s successes include suits on behalf of the families of E. coli-sickened children against the fast-food hamburger chain Jack in the Box in 1993 and against fruit juice producer Odwalla Inc. in 1996. In 1998, Marler represented several metro-Atlanta children sickened with E. coli they contracted through contaminated swimming pool water at Marietta’s White Water amusement park, among them the 4-year-old son of then Atlanta Braves shortstop Walt Weiss. Marler’s small clients included the most critically ill children who were hospitalized after their E. coli exposure.

Marler’s Web site states that the Seattle attorney eventually settled the White Water claims for “millions of dollars.”

Marler’s firm, Marler Clark, has also represented victims sickened by E. coli they contracted in 2002 from contaminated ground beef produced at a ConAgra meatpacking plant. ConAgra settled with those victims without litigation, according to a Marler Clark pleading on file in Atlanta.

Marler Clark is adopting a two-pronged offense in the ConAgra litigation. The firm is representing plaintiffs who were sickened by the contaminated peanut butter in a potential class action. But it also is filing individual suits on behalf of more seriously stricken clients who were hospitalized with salmonella poisoning.

You can read more about Marler Clark’s involvement in ConAgra peanut butter litigation here.

The CDC’s publication, Moribidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) released today includes a summary of the ConAgra peanut butter Salmonella outbreak investigation. The report states in part:

In February 2007, a case-control study with 65 patients and 124 controls was conducted to identify the food item associated with illness; the majority of interviews were completed by state and local health departments and were coordinated by CDC. For the study, a case was defined as infection with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Tennessee in a person aged >18 years with a history of diarrhea. Controls were well adults from the patient’s community who were matched by geographic location. Controls were identified using a reverse online telephone directory that when given an address provided telephone numbers for residences in the same extended neighborhood as the patients. The median ages for the patients and controls were 53 and 58 years, respectively. Patients were more likely than controls to have eaten peanut butter (81% versus 65%, matched odds ratio [mOR] = 1.9, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.8–5.2), to have eaten peanut butter more than once a week (66% versus 40%, mOR = 3.5, CI = 1.4–9.9), and to have eaten either Peter Pan or Great Value peanut butter (67% versus 13%, mOR = 10.9, CI = 3.8–43.0). Neither the consumption of other peanut butter brands nor consumption of turkey products was associated with illness.

Epidemiologic data suggesting Peter Pan brands of peanut butter as the possible source of the outbreak were provided to FDA officials on February 13, 2007. The following day, FDA issued a health alert to consumers indicating that they should not eat Peter Pan or Great Value peanut butter with a product code beginning with 2111, both of which were manufactured in a single facility in Georgia operated by ConAgra Foods. ConAgra Foods voluntarily recalled the products, destroyed existing products in their possession, and temporarily halted production pending further investigation.

We are continuing our own investigation into nearly 5,000 claims of illness after eating the peanut butter. 

Rotten tomatoes anyone?

Tomato supplier for Sheetz ceases operations, blames bad publicity

In the not so distant past, Coronet Foods, the tomato distributer for sandwiches sold at Sheetz convenience stores, ceased operations at its plant in Wheeling, West Virginia, leaving 220 workers without jobs. The company blamed its going out of business on bad publicity from the summer’s salmonella outbreak that sickened more than 400 people, about 330 Pennsylvanians and another 80 people in nearby states.

Marler Clark represented 107 people affected by the salmonella outbreak. We filed three lawsuits as a result of the outbreak, all targeting Coronet. They have plenty of insurance to cover the claims, and we are in the process of trying to reach fair settlements for everyone.

Blaming adverse publicity from a salmonella outbreak this past summer that sickened more than 400 people, Coronet Foods said it was ceasing operations today at its plant in Wheeling, W.Va., leaving 220 workers without jobs.

The plant, which supplied bagged salads, vegetables and fruits to customers in about 20 states in New England, the Midwest and the mid-Atlantic region, informed its workers at the close of business yesterday, said Ernie Pascua, the company’s chief executive officer.

“There was a lot of hugging, a lot of tears,” Pascua said last night.

In some cases, several generations of family members have worked for the company, he said.

Coronet distributed sliced Roma tomatoes used in sandwiches sold at Sheetz convenience stores. About 330 Pennsylvanians who ate the sandwiches got sick with salmonella, and the outbreak is believed to have sickened another 80 people in nearby states.

A not-so-Sunny reminder?

Class Action Lawsuit Filed by Marler Clark re Sun Orchard Orange Juice Salmonella Outbreak

In July of 1999, Marler Clark,filed a nationwide class action lawsuit on behalf of all persons sickened and injured by unpasteurized orange juice contaminated with a rare strain of the Salmonella bacteria. The contaminated juice was manufactured by Sun Orchard.

At the time that lawsuit was filed, Marler Clark had been contacted by over 30 persons in several states with possible claims against Sun Orchard. The named plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Jim and Fiona Jackson, the parents of Ian Jackson, a 4 year old boy who became seriously ill when he drank Sun Orchard orange juice contaminated with Salmonella.

As I said then:

“It’s simply outrageous that, after all we know about the importance of pasteurization, especially after the Odwalla E. coli outbreaks, we still have companies selling unpasteurized fruit juice, and justifying it on the grounds that it’s more flavorful if not pasteurized, and more full of vitamins,” said William Marler, of the Marler Clark law firm. “At a minimum, consumers should be warned of the potential risks of consuming these unpasteurized products. The question is why Sun Orchard did not want a warning label on this product.”

Are we making progress?

Grandmother Bonnie Bartley is suing the Golden Corral, after she and her 4-year-old granddaughter became extremely ill from the lunch they ate there on August 17.

Allison B. Luster, 4, of Marietta, was taken to WellStar Kennestone Hospital’s emergency room Aug. 23 with bloody stools, constant vomiting and severe stomach pain. She also developed a severe fever and dehydration and lost one-seventh of her body weight.

As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported:

“This little girl was really sick, requiring extensive antibiotic treatment and a week in the hospital,” Marler said in a telephone interview. “The restaurant should step up and do the right thing, compensating victims for what they’ve gone through.”

Bartley experienced milder symptoms the day after eating at Golden Corral, Marler said, but she did not seek immediate medical attention. The girl is still being monitored for stomach problems, he said.

The lawsuit demands that the restaurant compensate the plaintiffs for medical bills, attorney fees and any other fees the court may deem appropriate.

The establishment is one of a dozen Golden Corrals in the metro area owned by Charles Winston. He voluntarily closed the restaurant Sept. 9 while state health officials scrutinized it for a source of contamination. Equipment and surfaces were once again thoroughly scrubbed and sanitized.

18 cases of salmonella berta infections between early June and late August were linked to the Golden Corral just west of Town Center mall, the Georgia Division of Public Health said last week. One person with underlying health conditions died.

Although previous health inspections Aug. 21 and 22 turned up no trace of the bacteria, the bacteria was found in a floor drain last week.

Other patrons of the restaurant who claim they were sickened at the Golden Corral are considering litigation.

Marler Clark has been retained by four victims of a June outbreak of salmonellosis at a Gates country club. In an article titled Outbreak Victims Hire Top Lawyer, one of the Florida men (my client) sickened by this outbreak describes the illness he went through as ‘one of the worst weeks of [his] life.’ The other three Marler Clark clients referenced in the article are a Rochester family.

All four attended the same party on June 9 at Brook-Lea Country Club and have culture-confirmed cases of the bacterial illness. The Monroe County Health Department has confirmed 55 other cases so far – not all of them linked to the Pixley Road country club. County records show two significant earlier outbreaks of salmonellosis – one in 1987 and the other in 1995. Both sickened more than 100 people.

As the article says:

Marler Clark has filed Freedom of Information Law requests for state and Monroe County documents about the incident.

“I try not to interfere with Health Department investigations,” said Marler, who has an epidemiologist on staff. “But I monitor what they do.”

As Marlene Hunt of the PioneerLocal reported, a settlement has been reached between 49 victims of the salmonella outbreak traced to the former Chili’s Bar and Grill in Vernon Hills and Brinker International, owner of the franchise.

My firm filed individual lawsuits and a class action lawsuit in federal court in Chicago during 2003 seeking punitive damages on behalf of all outbreak victims. The settlement was worked out before the trial was scheduled to start.

Health officials determined the source of the salmonella infection was not due to improperly cooked food, but to employees who likely failed to follow proper hand washing techniques and a management decision to keep the restaurant open for two days even though its water supply was interrupted.

The food poisoning epidemic affected more than 300 persons who dined at the Vernon Hills restaurant between June 23 and July 1 in 2003. The health department interviewed about 1,200 individuals including 305 people whose illnesses appeared related to the outbreak. Of those, 141 patrons and 28 employees tested positive for salmonella.

Marler Clark has settled the claims of 49 individuals who were infected with Salmonella after eating at the Vernon Hills Chili’s Grill & Bar in late June and early July of 2003.

“We were far along in the process of preparing these cases for trial when settlement discussions finally seemed to turn serious,” said Marler Clark partner Denis Stearns. “We believed strongly in our case, and the importance of the point we were trying to make about food safety and corporate responsibility. This was a case my partners and I really wanted to take to trial. But when finally faced with the chance to not only fully compensate our clients, but to do so in a way that showed the clients that, we really did send a message with this one, that was something we had to recommend accepting.”

The Lake County Health Department’s outbreak investigation revealed that the Vernon Hills Chili’s had been under operation despite having a broken dish-machine and a lack of hot water for at least one day, and a lack of any water at all during most of the lunch-rush one day when infected food workers were preparing and serving food to patrons. The Lake County Health Department reported that 305 Chili’s patrons reported having symptoms of Salmonella infection that could be traced to Chili’s.

“In a way it is too bad that the amount of the settlement is confidential,” added Bill Marler. “I think that more than most settlements we have achieved in the past, this one would really have made the restaurant industry sit up and take notice.”