May 2008

After nearly two years of work, we were able to settle today the last severe E. coli O121:H19 Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS) cases related to illnesses stemming in part from a teachers’ conference luncheon in June 2006.  According to the Weber-Morgan Health Department (WMHD), at least three attendees had contracted E. coli O121:H19 stool culture positive infections.  On August 2, 2006, the WMHD issued a news release indicating that those people had been infected with E. coli O121:H19, and that two of the individuals had developed HUS.  WMHD stated that the evidence indicated that all three people contracted E. coli from the same source sometime during June 27-30 at the Wendy’s restaurant in Ogden, Utah.  By August 7, WMHD officials had revised the number of outbreak victims to four, including three who had developed HUS.

WMHD further concluded that the source of the infection was contaminated iceberg lettuce prepared at the Wendy’s Restaurant and sourced from California.  One of the patients with confirmed HUS, who had not attended the teacher’s conference, ate cheeseburgers with iceberg lettuce at the Wendy’s Restaurant during the outbreak period.  The second confirmed HUS case was an attendee of the teachers’ conference, and a third case of HUS was determined to be secondary transmission from an infected person at the conference.

We represented all of the HUS and culture-confirmed cases.  Eventually, WMHD determined that at least 69 people had become ill in the outbreak.  Of those, three remained hospitalized for an extended period and were listed in serious to critical condition.  The settlement amounts are confidential.

Orval Kent Foods has announced a voluntary recall of 23,000 pounds of Amish macaroni salad after the Ohio Department of Agriculture found E. coli in a sample package. Products included in the recall include Orval Kent Amish Macaroni Salad in 5-pound containers with June 12th expiration dates and Yoder’s Amish Macaroni salad in 1, 2 and 5-pound containers with June 7th expiration dates.

I ( am off to Eastern Washington a bit later this morning to give a talk at the “Farm-to-Table” Conference. My talk is on “Hot Topics in Food Illness Litigation.” It is also a bit of a homecoming – I spent six years at WSU getting three bachelor degrees, four years on the Pullman City Council and eight years as a WSU Regent. The Conference topics are:

The Food Safety: Farm-to-Table Conference is back! The conference was initiated in 1991 and is offered through a collaborative effort between Washington State University and the University of Idaho. National and regional speakers present information on a variety of food safety issues, offering a professional development opportunity for state and local health authorities, Extension employees and food industry professionals. The conference offers networking opportunities to strengthen food safety partnerships in the Pacific Northwest. Topics reviewed at previous conferences include the following:

* Foodborne pathogens, such as Salmonella, E. coli O157:H7 and Campylobacter

* Food safety management programs, such as HACCP and Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs)

* Food-specific food safety concerns, including produce and seafood

* Regulatory aspects of food production

* Foodborne outbreaks

I blogged last week that New Mexico was reporting a large cluster of salmonella illnesses.  This morning New Mexico state health department says there are now 21 and that many of the state’s recent salmonella cases are linked.  Health officials said many come from the same strain – "Saint Paul."  The ill patients live in McKinley, San Juan, Dona Ana, Curry, Socorro and Bernalillo counties, ranging in age from 2 to 82.  Right now there are also 14 cases of salmonella in Texas.  Other nearby states reporting cases are Colorado, Utah and Arizona.  Salmonella St. Paul is the 6th most common serovar (over 2,000 serovars) infecting humans in the United States.  The CDC reports that it has been found in outbreaks related from reptiles to sprouts.

With more that 40 cases reported as salmonella St. Paul stool culture positive, it is likely that the "real number" – those persons not culture-positive, but still ill – may be in excess of 160.  (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).

Robert Rodriguez of The Fresno Bee reported from the courtroom Friday in Hollister that the Superior Court judge ruled that the state had a rational basis for creating legislation that imposes a higher safety standard for Organic Pastures and Claravale Farms – California’s two raw milk producers.  The new regulations set a limit of 10 coliform bacteria per milliliter of raw milk.  It’s the same standard used for pasteurized milk.

Judge Tobias also granted the dairies a three-week suspension of the new law to allow their attorney to file an appeal.  The Judge also said.  "From the plaintiffs’ standpoint, they should be dealing with their political representatives for legislative modification."

Mark McAfee, owner of Organic Pastures dairy (who I have sued on behalf of two childen sickened in a 2006 E. coli O157:H7 outbreak), said dairy officials are working with Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter, on a new legislative solution that sets a higher bacteria count along with a new food safety plan guiding dairy operation.  I have been following Mark McAfee, who I understand calls me "Marler Shark" – a play on the firm name, Marler Clark.

The following nine posts you might find interesting – 123456 789.

The New Mexico Department of Health is investigating 19 salmonella cases across the state since May 8. Several patients have been hospitalized with severe symptoms, but no deaths have been reported.  Health officials are interviewing patients to determine how they may have contracted the illness.  The patients live in McKinley, San Juan, Dona Ana, Curry, Socorro and Bernalillo counties, ranging in age from 2 to 82.

My bet is cantaloupe.

Salmonella is one of the most common enteric (intestinal) infections in the United States. Salmonellosis (the disease caused by Salmonella) is the second most common foodborne illness after Campylobacter infection. It is estimated that 1.4 million cases of salmonellosis occur each year in the U.S.; 95% of those cases are foodborne-related. Approximately 220 of each 1000 cases result in hospitalization and eight of every 1000 cases result in death. About 500 to 1,000 or 31% of all food-related deaths are caused by Salmonella infections each year. Salmonellosis is more common in the warmer months of the year.

Salmonella infection occurs when the bacteria are ingested, typically from food derived from infected food-animals, but it can also occur by ingesting the feces of an infected animal or person. Food sources include raw or undercooked eggs/egg products, raw milk or raw milk products, contaminated water, meat and meat products, and poultry. Raw fruits and vegetables contaminated during slicing have been implicated in several foodborne outbreaks.

In the last 15 years, I have been involved in thousands of cases of Salmonella in nearly every state.

New Jersey health officials announced today that the Salmonella outbreak at Princeton University appears to have been caused by an ill food service worker who touched (with what?) some shredded cheddar cheese.  Salmonella is a fecal bacterium that causes one of the most common enteric (intestinal) infections in the United States – Salmonellosis.

The New Jersey Health Department says there were 28 confirmed and 42 probable cases of Salmonella infections on campus between April 20 and May 2. ‚Ä®‚Ä® All the cases appeared to come from two food stations at the Frist Student Center.  A salad bar and the Ole Nuevo Latino food station were shut down on May 2, but reopened Monday.  Food workers at the campus center have been given refresher training on health issues, including wearing gloves and not working when they’re ill.

I read with some level of concern that “FSIS Issues Public Health Alert For Beef Products Due To Possible E. Coli O157:H7 Contamination” which wound up in my inbox this morning:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is issuing a public health alert [not a recall] for approximately 808 pounds of ground beef products produced at Tyson Fresh Meats, Inc., a Lexington, Neb., establishment that may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7. Here is the interesting part:

Tyson Fresh Meats, Inc., (EST. 245L), sold chubs of 85% lean, 15% fat coarse ground beef to Sherm’s Food-4-Less retail establishment in Medford, Oregon, who then processed this ground beef into various sized packages of ground beef products and sold to consumers between May 7 and May 19.

FSIS is issuing a public health alert rather than a recall because FSIS has confirmed that none of the affected products remain available for sale at this retail establishment. Consumers that may have purchased various sized packages of ground beef products at this retail establishment between May 7 and May 19 are urged to check their refrigerators and freezers and discard or return the ground beef products for a refund.

An alert, but not a recall, and only focusing on product from Tysons sent to Sherm’s Food-4-Less? What about other grinders or other retail establishments that received the same product from Tysons? The alert in fact says:

The problem was discovered after a microbiological test for E. coli O157:H7 was reported positive by another recipient of the product subject to this alert.

Why no alert or recall for that recipient? How many recipients are there? Where is the transparency?

Someone sent me this photo and asked me to guess where it is?  Other than heaven?  Where?

Another friend/attorney’s kid just got elected President of his High School class – great to see he took after his mom.

Katie Wagner of the Packet wrote a few moments ago “Salmonella infection count at university now at 28.” According to Ms. Wagner:

Since April 29, when the university learned of the first of the cases, a total of 20 students and eight staff members have been infected, university spokeswoman Cass Cliatt said. The latest date of onset of symptoms for the confirmed cases is May 2, which was before Princeton took its intervention measures to close the Mexican and salad food stations and remove some food foods at its largest dining facility on campus — the Frist Campus Center — Ms. Cliatt said. “No source determined, though state health officials say the cases are ‘associated’ with the Frist venue,” Ms. Cliatt said. “The investigators continue to work around the clock analyzing data from people who did and did not get sick.”