August 2007

According to CNN, nine people have gotten sick in Washington, Oregon and Idaho from E. coli contaminated beef. Federal and state health officials issued a consumer alert Thursday after nine people were sickened by contaminated beef produced by Interstate Beef of Oregon. The recall is for 41,205 pounds (approximately 20 tons) of beef.  As of a few hours ago, we have been contacted by two families who have been sickened in this latest failure of of our food safety system.  Also read the article in this mornings Oregonian.

The meat, processed between July 19 and July 30, according to the company, was also sold in Alaska, but no illnesses have been reported there. Authorities identified the suspect products as 16-ounce packages of “Northwest Finest 7% Fat, Natural Ground Beef” with UPC code label “752907 600127” and 16-ounce packages of “Northwest Finest 10% Fat, Organic Ground Beef” with expiration dates between August 1 to August 8. The beef was sold in Safeway, QFC, and Fred Meyer and other stores. DNA tests confirmed that the nine people sickened by E. coli were infected with the same strain of the bacteria.

I am sitting in the Sydney, Australia airport waiting on our flight back to the United States.  I thought it would be good however to stop in on Hawaii to see how the E. coli outbreak tied to lettuce is coming along.

Carol M. Ostrom of the Seattle Times reported today on the growing problem of E. coli in hamburger in the United States.  Over the last several months there have been close to a dozen recalls and nearly 7,000,000 pounds of meat recalled.  We have a problem – again.  Good thing I am about to get on the plane here in Melbourne, Australia to head back.  As Ms. Ostrom reported:

Six people in Washington have been sickened by E. coli contamination in ground beef made by Oregon-based Interstate Meats, leading to a federal consumer alert for the products.

The illnesses occurred in late July and the first week of August, the state health department said.

Two other cases connected to the company’s products have been reported in Oregon.

The Washington cases included one child and five adults in King, Island and Clallam counties, the health department said. Two were hospitalized and have since recovered.

The alert was issued by the U.S. Food Safety Inspection Service for products sold under the brand name “Northwest Finest.” The products subject to this public health alert include:

• 16-ounce packages of “Northwest Finest 7% FAT, NATURAL GROUND BEEF.” The label bears a UPC code of 752907 600127.

• 16-ounce packages of “Northwest Finest 10% FAT, Organic GROUND BEEF.” No UPC code is available.

Each package also bears the establishment number “Est. 965” inside the U.S. Department of Agriculture mark of inspection, and sell-by dates between Aug. 1 and Aug. 11.

The ground-beef products were produced on various dates between July 19 and July 30 and distributed in Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

The affected products were available for sale at Safeway, QFC and Fred Meyer stores in Washington. But the ground beef may have been available at other outlets, so all consumers are advised to check their freezers for these products. Any frozen ground beef should be checked and discarded as necessary.

Here is a partial list of outbreaks that have occurred in the last few months:

*  Abbott’s Meat Inc., a Flint, Mich., establishment, is voluntarily recalling approximately 26,669 pounds of ground beef products because they may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.

*  Ninteen people have recently been sickenrd with E. coli O157:H7 linked to eating ate a Hunstville, Alabama restaurant.

* At least thirteen people have been confirmed ill with E. coli O157:H7 infections after eating ground beef produced by United Food Group sold in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming and Montana. Over 5,700,000 pound of meat have been recalled.

* Tyson Fresh Meats, Inc. recalled 40,440 pounds of ground beef products due to possible contamination with E. coli O157:H7. No illnesses yet reported.

* Seven Minnesotans were confirmed as part of the E. coli O157:H7 outbreak that prompted PM Beef Holdings to recall 117,500 pounds of beef trim products that was ground and sold at Lunds and Byerly’s stores.

* Twenty-seven people have been confirmed ill with E. coli O157:H7 infections in Fresno County. The Fresno County Department of Community Health inspected the “Meat Market” in Northwest Fresno, the source of the outbreak.

* At least two people were confirmed ill with E. coli O157:H7 infections in Michigan after eating ground beef produced by Davis Creek Meats and Seafood of Kalamazoo, Michigan. The E. coli outbreak prompted Davis Creek Meats and Seafood to recall approximately 129,000 pounds of beef products that were distributed in Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

* Following reports of three Napa Valley children who became sick from hamburger patties sold at a St. Helena Little League snack shack, 100,000 pounds of hamburger (that was a year old) was recalled.

* Several people were confirmed ill with E. coli O157:H7 infections in Pennsylvania after eating E. coli-contaminated meat products at Hoss’s Family Steak and Sea Restaurants, a Pennsylvania-based restaurant chain that purchased its meat from HFX, Inc., of South Claysburg, Pennsylvania. As a result of the outbreak, HFX recalled approximately 4,900 pounds of meat products.

I just finished giving my second of three talks here in Melbourne and just received an email with a link to an article in the WSU Magazine, by Hannelore Sudermann and photography by Bruce Andre and Robert Hubner.  Sitting in an internet cafe several thousands of miles away, and a day ahead, is an interesting way to read about your life.  It is an interesting read – see below:

The nation’s leading food-borne illness attorney tells all

Continue Reading I am proud I went to Washington State University

According to an FDA Press Release of this morning,  Metz Fresh has recalled spinach likely contaminated with Salmonella.  I actually learned about this at 2:00 AM (Melbourne time).  It is nearly a year after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed 205 illnesses and three deaths associated with consumption of E. coli O157:H7-contaminated Dole-brand bagged spinach, Metz Fresh of King City, California, recalled 8,118 cases of spinach for potential Salmonella contamination.  My office put out the following statement from me this afternoon (Seattle time):

“Since last year’s outbreak, the leafy greens industry has taken several positive steps toward reducing the risk of contaminated product reaching our food supply, but this latest recall proves that a voluntary compliance program is not sufficient to protect the public,” Marler said.

On July 23, members of the California Leafy Greens Handler Marketing Agreement (LGMA) began using a service mark certifying membership in the LGMA program. LGMA Chairman Joe Pezzini commented on the new service mark and Marketing Agreement: “Beginning July 23rd, we will begin to certify to our customers that California lettuce, spinach and other leafy greens have been grown to the highest food safety standards available.”

“Although Metz Fresh was reportedly using a test-and-hold system to prevent contaminated spinach from reaching the food supply, it is apparent that the system was not effective, given that approximately 800 cases of contaminated spinach made their way into the supply chain,” Marler continued. “We’re seeing today that regulation is needed to protect the leafy green industry from itself.”

I am in n Melbourne, Australia, where I delivered a keynote address at the Dairy Industry Association of Australia’ s Dairy Science World Series conference. In September I will travel to Beijing, China, for the China International Food Safety and Quality Conference and Exposition, and will deliver a keynote address entitled, “The Legal Costs of Foodborne Illness”.   My PowerPoints from the Melbourne conference are below: has found that an Arby’s in Washington State responsible for an outbreak of salmonella poisoning has a history of temperature violations – as do many other Arby’s locations across the country.  Full story at:

Customers Sick From Eating At Arby’s – Chain Has Many Repeat Violations

It’s the second time in less than a year that Arby’s customers are sick with salmonella poisoning. In both outbreaks, health officials have found that roast beef was sliced on a contaminated slicing machine.  Health department investigators say the Arby’s meat slicer tested positive for salmonella. They also found that four Arby’s employees were infected with salmonella. The same problem made Arby’s customers sick last year in Valdosta, Georgia. A bacteria-filled slicer contaminated sandwiches with salmonella, sending 19 to the hospital.

I am still in Australia where I will be giving three talks later this week to the food industry.  We will post the PowerPoints in the next few days.

In an all too common warning, Marisa Lagos of the San Fransisco Chronicle, warns customers at a San Jose Jamba Juice to seek medical attention.  This all could have been avoided if Jamba Juice had required all employees to have Hepatitis A shots, BEFORE they worked.

Customers at a Jamba Juice in San Jose may have been exposed to Hepatitis A this month, health officials said today. A food handler at the smoothie franchise’s store at 1140 Lincoln Ave. tested positive for the disease and was infectious for 12 days this month while working, officials said. The employee worked Aug. 1-3, 6-9 and 11-16.

People who have been vaccinated for Hepatitis A or have had the illness in the past are not at risk of infection. Santa Clara County health officials said the risk that customers had been exposed was small, “because it is likely that the employee followed good hand hygiene and food safety practices.” The store was inspected during a routine health inspection July 31, and no violations were found, officials said.

Anyone who visited the store within the past two weeks and believes they are at risk of infection should receive a vaccine, officials said. Immune globulin instead of the vaccine is available for infants, people with a chronic liver disease, and those who are over 40, pregnant or immune-system compromised. Symptoms of Hepatitis A include jaundice, fatigue, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, nausea, diarrhea and fever. Anyone with symptoms should contact a doctor. People who catch the disease can be sick for anywhere from a few weeks to six months.

Bill Hord of the Lincoln Bureau wrote an interesting piece a few days ago – E. coli vexes despite safety effort

His story seemed to focus on the Hudson Meat recall (US largest in 1997 – some 21 million pounds of meat) as the turning point in the battle against E. coli. Frankly, I always felt that it was the ConAgra outbreak in 2002 that seemed to be the point where the number of E. coli cases began to fall. What I thought was a bit odd was his failure to mention the several meat-related E. coli outbreaks that have occurred in 2007 – see my earlier posts.

Mr. Hord did have a chance to talk to my partner, Buce Clark:

The past decade also has spawned a legal niche for two opposing lawyers over a lawsuit brought on behalf of a 12-year-old girl infected with E. coli from a hamburger bought at a Jack in the Box fast-food restaurant.

Seattle attorney William Marler won a $15.6 million settlement on behalf of the girl. Marler and Bruce Clark, also of Seattle, who represented Jack in the Box, later formed a partnership to bring actions in food safety cases. In the past decade, the two have represented nearly 1,000 clients in E. coli cases, Clark said.

The cases take place out of the public eye, Clark said, because they nearly always result in settlements by companies that do not want the exposure that Jack in the Box received.

Interesting Chart:

Alex Pulaski of the Portland Oregonian (part of Newhouse News Service) wrote a comprehensive article on imported food and the risked posed by its increase.  I will be speaking in China in the middle of September of the risks of tainted food imports.

In the past year, federal inspectors have found salmonella in Hershey’s Kisses imported from Mexico, illegal pesticides and toxic compounds in peanut butter from India and scores of shipments of Chinese seafood tainted by unsafe animal drugs, unregistered pesticides or salmonella.

As the world turns into a huge buffet line for the American appetite, consumers face increasingly tough decisions about what export countries and food products pose higher risks of making them sick, while government inspectors struggle to protect and inform them. Mandatory country-of-origin labeling, passed by Congress in 2002, has been delayed under pressure by meat packers and retailers, leaving consumers with limited information about where their food might come from.

But an analysis by The Oregonian newspaper of Portland, Ore., points out some danger spots – food exports and exporting countries that have cropped up most often with problem inspections.

Overall, vegetable products, followed by seafood and fruit, were most often rejected. Most of the refused products had been subject to “import alerts,” meaning that federal inspectors had noticed a pattern of problems, requiring that shipments be held unless proven safe.

Specifically, The Oregonian’s analysis of U.S. Food and Drug Administration records shows that food items most often refused entry over the past year (and the most common reasons for the refusals) included:

Candy (filth), dried peppers (filth) and cantaloupes (salmonella) from Mexico.

Spices (salmonella) from India.

Vegetables (pesticides) from the Dominican Republic.

Seafood (animal drugs, pesticides, salmonella) from China.

Full Article

Continue Reading Imported food leaving bad taste

Blood donations save Lexington County woman’s life

Kara Gormley reported how Blood donations saved Erica Sturkie’s life:

She almost lost her life after eating a leafy vegetable. Now a young Lexington County woman is speaking about her distressing experience, and the generous acts that saved her life.

Erica Sturkie is about to embark on her senior year at Columbia College. Almost exactly a year ago there was a point where she wondered if she’d live to see her 21st birthday. “I was a healthy 20-year-old. Then, all of the sudden, you know, I was knocking on death’s door.”

Erica wound up in the hospital. Her classmates sent her well wishes after doctors diagnosed her with rare type of E. coli. “They were trying to figure out where it came from, nothing was checking out, then all of the sudden the story broke.”

She remembers, “It was like a light. I was like, oh my gosh, this was me. This is what happened to me.”

Erica says her blood tests revealed her E. coli spawned from bagged spinach. The spinach was part of a nationwide recall.

But finding out where she got the E. coli was only part of the battle. Erica says she underwent days of blood and plasma transfusions. Without them, she was given a three percent chance of survival.

She says without the blood, “I probably would not be here right now. A three percent chance of survival is not much. I definitely would not be here.”

According to the American Red Cross, when someone donates whole blood, the Red Cross is able to obtain one unit of plasma per donor. Erica says, “If that is true, it took approximately 100 people to walk through the door to save my life.”

She says she will never take that gift for granted. “It really makes me thankful for everyday that I have, and just, you know, taking care of myself.”

I read today in the Charlotte Observer online that kids and parents at a church camp in North Carolina ate recalled Castleberry’s chili last Tuesday.  Certainly, no one would knowingly serve recalled product at a camp for kids.  This is just another testament to how ineffective the Castleberry’s recall was. 

After the recall, major grocery chains emptied their shelves of Castleberry’s brands. But some smaller retailers didn’t, and for the past week, county health inspectors have helped state officials check convenience stores throughout the county.

As of today, they had checked nearly 800 stores and home daycares, finding recalled cans in about 7 percent of them, said Bill Hardister, the department’s environmental program manager. The department hopes to finish its canvass of stores and daycares today, he said.

Botulism is a serious illness.  There’s got to be a better way to conduct a recall and make sure people aren’t served product that could potentially contaminate them nearly a month after the fact.