According to an FDA Press Release, Queseria Bendita of Yakima, Wash., is recalling three types of cheese, Queso Fresco, Panela, and Requeson, because they have the potential to be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, an organism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems.

Although healthy individuals may suffer only short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea, Listeria infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women.

The Queso Fresco, Panela, and Requeson cheeses are sold at Queseria Bendita’s retail store and were distributed in Washington and Oregon, where they are sold in Hispanic markets.

The Queso Fresco is packaged in one- and three-pound vacuum packed wheels; the Panela is vacuum packed in one- and three- pound sizes; and the Requeson is packed in eight-ounce and one- pound clear plastic tubs.

Each cheese has a green label identifying the type of cheese, the Queseria Bendita brand name, and a date code up to and including "Apr 30 2010".

To date there is one confirmed illness in Washington related to the recalled product. Other illnesses in Washington and Oregon may also be related.

The public health investigation of the illnesses led to sampling and testing of the cheeses. The testing revealed the contamination of the product with Listeria monocytogenes.

The company has ceased production and distribution of the product while the Washington State Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the firm investigate the source of the problem.

A few days after the President and Vice President ordered and ate burgers in Arlington Virginia, the First Lady and her staff ate burgers at Good Stuff Eatery, 303 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, Washington, DC 20003.

Unlike with the President’s burger binge, the First Lady’s was not caught on video nor was the “doneness” of her burger reported.   Also, I tried to find the restaurant inspection reports of the Good Stuff Eatery online, but apparently Washington DC, unlike neighboring Arlington VA, do not put inspections online.

Although FDA does not oversee Hamburger, Dr. Margaret Hamburg has been tapped to head FDA. As she noted in her testimony before the Senate this week:

Turning to food safety, Hamburg said it will require sustained effort, more money, and stronger laws to improve the situation. She wants to shift from chasing outbreaks after they have broken out to preventing them first. That would require all food companies to follow written safety plans, overseen by federal and state inspectors. Traceability and import safety — weak links in the system — would have to be strengthened.

Obama’s budget, released Thursday, calls for a $260-million increase for the FDA’s food safety program. Past budget cuts have hit the food inspection program hard, and part of the new funding would go to rebuild the ranks of inspectors.

A rise in the number of Escherichia coli cases requires diligent detection efforts.
By Debby Giusti, MT(ASCP)
Ten-year-old Brianne Kiner spent 40 days in a coma in 1993, while teams of medical personnel worked round-the-clock to keep her alive. Brianne has little memory of the 118 days she was on kidney dialysis or the 80 units of blood she received, nor does she recall the numerous times the doctors told her mother that Brianne wouldn’t live through the night. What Brianne does remember is that her hospital ordeal left her with the dubious recognition of being the sickest child in the United States to survive Escherichia coli 0157:H7.
Over a 3-month period, more than 700 children and adults in four states in the northwest became ill after eating at various Jack in the Box restaurants. They suffered severe stomach cramps and diarrhea, often bloody, and close to 200 of the ill had to be hospitalized. Fifty-five cases progressed into hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a condition that can lead to kidney failure and even death. Children and the elderly are most at risk for HUS, and in the 1993 outbreak, four children died.
Epidemiologists quickly recognized that those infected had eaten undercooked hamburgers served at more than 90 Jack in the Box restaurants in the four state area.2 The beef shipped to the restaurants was found to be contaminated with E. coli 0157, and to date, the outbreak remains the largest in U.S. history caused by the organism.

Continue Reading E. coli’s Insidious Spread

The Washington Supreme Court today declined to review last year’s Court of Appeals decision upholding a $4.6 million award to 11 children injured in a 1998 E. coli O157:H7 outbreak that was linked to undercooked taco meat served as part of a school lunch at Finley Elementary School. School District had sought the Supreme Court’s review arguing that school districts should not be held legally responsible if ill-prepared food sickens or kills a student. The Supreme Court refused to consider the argument.
Denis Stearns, one of the founding partners at Marler Clark, said:

“Washington State has a long history of holding school accountable when the children in their care are injured or killed. We believe that the Supreme Court’s decision today reaffirms the principle that, when it comes to preparing food for their students, a school’s foodservice operation should be held to the same high standard as any other restaurant licensed to operate in this State.”
“School-aged children are more vulnerable than most when it comes to exposure to contaminated food. Those who argue for lower-standards plainly do not understand what the problem is, or what is truly at stake. If anything, schools should be held to the highest standards. These are our children we are talking about.”

Continue Reading Marler Clark Heralds Washington Supreme Court Decision Upholding $4.6 Million Jury Award to School Kids Sickened in 1998 E. coli O157:H7 Outbreak

As the Associated Press reported today, Marler Clark has filed yet another lawsuit against McDonalds. This one is on behalf of Helen Cook who contracted hepatitis A after eating a sandwich at a Mount Vernon McDonald’s restaurant.

From the article:

“It just underscores the need for fast-food restaurants to be ever vigilant about how they handle their product, how they cook their product and who they have working,” Marler said.

As I told the AP, Cook ate breakfast at the Mount Vernon McDonald’s before going to a nearby nursing home to care for her mother. She began to feel sick during a trip to Palm Springs, Calif., when she suffered from fatigue, cold sweats and abdominal soreness. After suffering intense pain and vomiting in April, she was hospitalized and diagnosed with hepatitis.The Skagit County Health Department, which had reports of nine cases of hepatitis-A in the area, traced the outbreak to the McDonald’s, where an assistant manager had the virus and continued to work.

Her illness is a reminder of how vulnerable Americans have become to disease transmitted through food.

This the second I have filed against the same restaurant. The previous suit sought damages on behalf of Nyssa Hall, then 6, who was sickened by E. coli bacteria from undercooked hamburger. That lawsuit was settled.

Marler Clark, the Seattle law firm nationally-known for its successful representation of persons injured in food-borne illness outbreaks, today announced that it had obtained a $1.06 million settlement on behalf of 29 persons infected with the Hepatitis A virus as a result of eating contaminated food at two local Subway Sandwich franchises.

“This is truly a superior result,” said Denis Stearns, a partner at the Marler Clark law firm. “While no amount of money can ever give back the time lost by our clients to this painful disease, or erase their painful memories, we are confident that this settlement will go a long way toward putting our clients’ lives back on track.” Stearns added, “More importantly, this settlement sends a strong message to restaurant owners that they will be held accountable for the sale of food contaminated by hepatitis-infected food workers.”

Three months ago, the Marler Clark attorneys called on restaurants to voluntarily vaccinate all workers against Hepatitis A. At the time, the law firm’s managing partner, William Marler, noted that: “In the last six months there have been Hepatitis A outbreaks linked to two Seattle restaurants, a Carl’s Jr. fastfood restaurant in Spokane, a restaurant in Minnesota, and three restaurants in Northwest Arkansas. Even worse, more than 700 children are being vaccinated against this potentially deadly virus in California after consumption of potentially contaminated strawberries.” Marler continued, “Restaurants and food manufacturers must take action and voluntarily vaccinate all of their employees.”

The CDC estimates that 83,000 cases of Hepatitis A occur in the United States every year, and at least 5% of these cases are related to foodborne transmission. While the CDC has stopped short of calling for the mandatory vaccination of food workers, it has repeatedly pointed out that the consumption of worker-contaminated food is a major cause of foodborne illness in the United States. In 1999 alone, over 10,000 people were hospitalized as a result of hepatitis A infections, and 83 people died.

Marler Clark filed a class action lawsuit today in King County Superior Court against Senor Felix Gourmet Mexican Foods, a California Corporation implicated in the recent Shigella outbreak. The named plaintiffs are Larissa Spafford, Robert B. Spafford, and their two-year-old son, Jasper, of Port Townsend, Washington. Ms. Spafford purchased the dip at a Port Townsend QFC. Both she and her son became ill.

Ms. Spafford’s and her son’s symptoms were relatively mild, although they included diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps. They were very fortunate not to have suffered more severe injury.

The Washington State Department of Health has confirmed that at least 30 people in Washington have shown symptoms of shigellosis. Dozens more were sickened in Oregon and California. This number is expected to rise over the next few weeks. Marcia Goldloft, Medical Epidemiologist with the Washington State Department of Health, said, “Shigellosis can be very serious and is highly contagious. People who think they might have been infected should pay close attention to hygiene. Carefully washing your hands could prevent getting a family member sick.”

This dip was sold under several names, including the above, Trader Joe’s 5 Layer Fiesta Dip, and Delicioso 5 Layer Fiesta Dip. It was sold in jars and on seven-inch trays, with a distinctly layered appearance. The list of retailers that carried this product includes the following: Costco, Trader Joe’s, Puget Consumers Co-op (PCC), and SAM’S Club. It was also distributed to QFC, Thriftway, Red Apple Markets, Zupan’s, and Homegrocer.com, as well as other individual retailers.

A piece of legislation called the California Safe Schools Lunch Act (AB 1988) was recently passed by the State Assembly and now awaits action by the State Senate. Unfortunately, its positive-sounding title might not satisfy the State’s own truth-in-labeling laws. The Bill’s passage and the passage of similar laws around the country could put school children at greater risk, not less, from the dangers of foodborne illness.

As originally drafted, the Bill restricted the State’s Department of Education from ordering irradiated ground beef from the USDA’s National School Lunch Program, an option that school districts have available for the first time in 2004. In its present form, it makes this additional food safety measure more difficult and expensive, at a time local school districts are financially strained. In some cities, like San Francisco, Berkeley and Washington, DC, local school boards have succumbed to pressure from irradiation opponents and voted outright bans on serving irradiated foods in cafeterias.

The problem is this: an estimated 73,000 people, many children, get E. coli infection every year and 61 die from it. The GAO found that between 1990 and 1999, 195 outbreaks of foodborne illnesses occurred in our schools, sickening thousands of children. I currently represent children who were made ill with E. coli O157:H7 infections after eating contaminated lettuce served at Eastern Washington University, a school in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and schools in San Diego and Orange Counties. In the past, I represented children made ill after eating contaminated ground beef in Washington state and Georgia. The list goes on, and E. coli is not the only pathogen making our children sick.

Continue Reading Irradiating Foods – One More Step to Preventing Illness in Our Schools

As the Associated Press’ article Kennewick family sues almond producer reported today, a Kennewick family has sued California-based almond producer Paramount Farms, alleging the mother and two young children were sickened by salmonella-tainted almonds. Shawnna Morris and her two young children got sick in February after she purchased a package of raw almonds, produced by Paramount, at a store in Kennewick, in southeast Washington. All three were diagnosed with salmonella enteritidis.

Both Shawnna Morris and her 3-year-old daughter ate the nuts, said lawyer Bill Marler of Seattle. He alleges the family’s 1-year-old son became ill from contact with his mother and sister.

Federal regulators have received reports of 25 people falling ill, most likely from raw almonds supplied by Paramount. The company has voluntarily recalled 13 million pounds of raw almonds nationwide, and the size of the recall appeared likely to grow as federal investigators continue to identify distributors and repackagers of almonds that originated from Paramount.

The recall covers millions of packages sold under a variety of brand names across the country, as well as almonds shipped to eight countries. The FDA has received reports of salmonella enteritidis in at least six states so far. No fatalities have been reported.

Young children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems are especially vulnerable to infection from salmonella. Symptoms include fever, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal pain.

Salmonella in almonds is rare. This is only the second reported outbreak. So far, investigators have found no trace of salmonella in any of the recalled almonds or at Paramount. Experts say it is possible the outbreak may never be traced to its source.

From today’s Business Wire, Marler Clark is Suing Paramount Farms Over Salmonella-tainted Almonds. My firm filed a lawsuit against California-based almond producer, Paramount Farms on behalf of the Morris family of Kennewick, Washington, three of whom became seriously ill and required hospitalization after eating Salmonella-tainted raw California almonds produced by Paramount Farms and sold by Costco. The almonds were purchased in January 2004. At least 18 people, and likely more, have suffered Salmonella infection linked to the consumption of raw California almonds produced by Paramount Farms and sold under the Kirkland Signature, Trader Joe’s, and Sunkist brands.

“There have been prior incidences of Salmonella-tainted almonds that have led to illnesses and recalls,” said William Marler, attorney for the family. “Paramount Farms should have known this and taken appropriate precautions to make sure it didn’t happen again.”

In April 2001 the Canadian Food Inspection Agency warned the public not to consume California raw whole almonds after 140 people became ill with Salmonella infection.

“Eighteen people have become ill with Salmonella infection so far during this outbreak. I would be willing to speculate that the number of illnesses related to this outbreak will continue to rise,” Marler added.

Salmonella bacteria cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy persons infected with Salmonella often experience fever, diarrhea (which may be bloody), nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. In rare circumstances, Salmonella can enter the bloodstream and can lead to arterial infections such as infected aneurysms, endocarditis, and arthritis. See also www.about-salmonella.com, www.foodborneillness.com, and www.salmonellablog.com.