March 2005

A seventh child in central Florida has contracted a life-threatening kidney infection after visiting a petting zoo in Orlando. Five of the seven children were hospitalized in critical condition, including one on dialysis, the Orlando Sentinel reported for Thursday editions. Another had been upgraded to stable condition, said Dr. Mehul Dixit, who is treating some of the children at Florida Hospital Orlando.
One child was treated and released from Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children & Women several weeks ago.
The potentially dangerous kidney condition — hemolytic uremic syndrome, or HUS — is a rare complication arising from an initial infection most commonly associated with E. coli, a bacterium found in undercooked beef or contaminated food.
Symptoms include bloody diarrhea, lethargy, anemia and decreased urine output are all signs of kidney failure.
The hospitalized children all touched animals recently at area fairs, including the Central Florida Fair in Orlando and the Florida Strawberry Festival in Plant City. They might have been exposed to the bacteria through the animals’ feces, officials said.

Marler Clark filed a lawsuit Wednesday on behalf of seven people who became ill with Salmonella Enteriditis infections after eating Paramount Farms raw almonds between September, 2003 and May, 2004. The lawsuit was filed in the South Judicial District of the Los Angeles County Superior Court (Case No. NC036770).
All seven plaintiffs had Salmonella infections linked to almonds manufactured and sold by Paramount Farms. Paramount Farms recalled roughly eighteen million pounds of almonds in May, 2004 after the CDC traced the Salmonella illnesses of 29 people in twelve states and Canada to consumption of Paramount’s raw almonds between September, 2003 and May, 2004.
“We have been working to settle our clients’ Salmonella claims against Paramount Farms for almost a year now,” said William Marler, managing partner of Marler Clark. “Unfortunately, Paramount has not made reasonable offers to our clients to settle their claims”
The plaintiffs are residents of California, Washington, and Arizona. Marler Clark previously filed Salmonella lawsuits against Paramount Farms on behalf of a Kennewick, Washington family and a Renton, Washington, man who suffered from reactive arthritis, a complication of Salmonella infection.
“At this point, we feel that the only chance of obtaining just compensation for our clients is letting a jury decide the value of these claims,” Marler concluded.

On Wednesday, the Orlando Sentinel reported that at least five children were in critical condition in Orlando-area hospitals with Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome, a potentially life-threatening cause of kidney failure. All visited a petting zoo the week before they became ill.
There’s nothing more American than a petting zoo. Countless numbers of children visit petting zoos to have a hands-on experience with farm animals every year. Unfortunately, some children become ill with E. coli O157:H7 infections – the leading cause of Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome in North America. In fact, it is estimated that five to ten percent of persons who become ill with E. coli infections develop Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome.
Most people identify E. coli with undercooked ground beef, but it’s not that simple. E. coli infections are caused by the ingestion of fecal material. So a burger becomes contaminated during the slaughtering process, and children can become infected while playing with livestock that are shedding the bacteria. Just as proper sanitation in slaughterhouses is essential in preventing foodborne illness outbreaks, good hygiene and sanitation in areas where livestock are held are of utmost importance in preventing E. coli outbreaks among petting zoo visitors.
Lightning does strike the same spot twice, or even more often.

Continue Reading Lightning Strikes the Same Spot Twice

Unfortunately, some people make suspect and unsupportable foodborne illness claims. It is important to develop a reliable method of identifying suspect, unsupportable, or illegitimate foodborne illness claims. In my experience, food industry corporations over-emphasize, and thus over react to, the presence of such claims. Such a strategy can lead to the denial of legitimate claims. Denying legitimate claims increases the likelihood of missing important measures to improve food safety. Not improving food safety increases the risk of poisoning consumers and resulting litigation. Litigation not only carries its own expenses, but the threat of public relations headaches as well.
In a paper I wrote for the Defense Research Institute (DRI) for an upcoming speech at their conference on foodborne illness claims, I discuss how to evaluate whether a claim is legitimate:

Separating the Chaff from the Wheat: How to determine the strength of a foodborne illness claim

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

At least 29 pupils at San Jose Elementary School in Magini, Bohol, Philippines died of likely cyanide poisoning on Wednesday after eating carmelized cassava roots. Health officials said 50 pupils are in critical condition, and at least 100 students became ill with food poisoning after being served the sweetened cassava roots at school. Cassava plant species are known to produce cyanide when ingested, but if the roots are cooked properly before they are eaten, they are non-toxic.
School food poisoning is not uncommon. For decades, health officials have reported outbreaks of illness among students throughout the world that have been served school lunches and snacks that made them sick. In the last ten years, children in United States schools have been served foods containing such pathogens as E. coli O157:H7 and Salmonella, and toxic chemicals such as anhydrous ammonia. A 2003 study published by the US General Accounting Office (GAO) reported that half of school-related food poisoning was caused by poor preparation techniques by foodservice workers.
“In this most recent instance in the Philippines, it is clear that proper preparation techniques were not used,” said William Marler, an attorney with Marler Clark who represents victims of food poisoning. “In countries where cassava is eaten, there is a known risk of serving this root when it is under-cooked. One wonders why it was allowed in the school to begin with.”
“Parents around the world send their children to school every day without second-guessing that the food they eat will be safe. But reality is, we all need to take a second look at what our kids are being served at school,” Marler concluded.

As the Post-Dispatch reported on February 25, a manager for a warehouse and transportation company in Madison admitted last month to illegally ordering that boxes of chicken be labeled and shipped without proper inspection – including some sent to a school in Joliet, Ill., where dozens of people fell ill.
Edward L. Wuebbels, the manager at Lanter Co., which was under contract with the Illinois State Board of Education to store and ship school lunches, pleaded guilty in federal court in East St. Louis of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. Department of Agriculture and making false statements. He will face a sentence estimated at 24 to 30 months in prison.
According to court documents, the problem began Nov. 19, 2001, with an ammonia leak at the St. Louis warehouse of Gateway Cold Storage. Officials believed that the chicken, in sealed plastic, could be repackaged and relabeled without harm to consumers.
But Wuebbels asked Gateway to ship the product to Lanter, and ordered employees there to do the repackaging and relabeling even though it is not an approved inspection site. As a result, the product was not properly inspected.
From 300 to 600 boxes were shipped, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Norman Smith. Most were not affected by the ammonia. But a shipment to Laraway Elementary School in Joliet had been contaminated and was prepared on Nov. 25, 2002, officials said.
When it was cooked, there was a smell of ammonia in the air, Smith said.
An estimated 170 people who ate the chicken complained of stomach aches, and 60 went to hospitals. Most were treated and released; none was permanently injured.