October 2008

The Onondaga County Health Department reports that 20 cases of Salmonella, scattered from late August through October 19, have been linked to Plainville’s Nature’s Fare Restaurant.  Several of those sick were hospitalized.  As of Thursday afternoon, the restaurant shut down, and will stay closed for a week.  Owner Mark Bitz says it will give them time to clean the place top to bottom, test their employees, and also give the restaurant a chance to review its practices.  "It’s hard to know — we may never know the exact source, but certainly all steps being taken by the facility are going to ensure this isn’t going to happen again," says Onondaga County health commissioner Dr. Cynthia Morrow.

Study shows potential advance in fighting E. coli

Researchers have developed a new class of inhibitors that neutralize toxic bacteria produced by E. coli, the cause of most food poisoning outbreaks, according to a new study. The new inhibitor potentially represents an important advance over standard antibiotics, said the study published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Used with customary therapeutics, the inhibitors could prove effective against numerous types of bacteria that release soluble toxins such as enterohemorrhagic E. coli, said David Bundle, principal author of the study. The inhibitor, called (S)-PolyBAIT, protected mice against the effects of a dose of the Shiga toxin that causes the hemolytic-uremic syndrome associated with E. coli food poisoning, according to the researchers. The inhibitors offer a more promising approach than antibiotics alone, which can destroy cells and release bacterial toxins into the bloodstream.

E. coli vaccine OK’d for cattle

A new E. coli vaccine for cattle given the green light by federal regulators is an encouraging development in food safety, but the threat posed by the deadly bacteria can never be eradicated, the lead investigator into the tainted water tragedy in Walkerton, Ont., said Monday. Bioniche Life Sciences Inc. announced Monday that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has approved the vaccine Econiche to help reduce the proliferation of E. coli O157:H7 in cattle, in turn decreasing the risk of the bacteria spreading to humans.

Red meat, milk lovers more susceptible to E. coli

Lovers of red meat and milk may be more susceptible to a major strain of Escherichia coli (E. coli), which causes severe diarrhea, researchers in Australia said. In an article published in Nature, they said red meat and cow’s milk contain a type of sugar that the Shiga toxigenic E. coli bacterium binds readily to, making people sick. "Frequent consumption of (red meat and milk) would allow incorporation of the sugar into our cells and when we eat meat infected with E. coli, it sensitizes our cells to attack by this toxin," said Travis Beddoe, a research fellow at the Protein Crystallography Unit of Australia’s Monash University. Using human gut and kidney tissues, the researchers found that toxins from E. coli would only bind to tissues that were flushed with the sugar. "The toxins couldn’t bind to human tissues in the absence of the sugar, but when we fed human cells with this (sugar) … there was strong binding and increase in virulence and toxicity," Beddoe told Reuters in a telephone interview. The sugars can reside anywhere along the human digestive tract, although they tend to concentrate in the stomach and kidneys — sometimes for up to a few days. "If we drink milk or have a lot of red meat intake we would be replenishing those sugars, they would be there all the time," Beddoe said. The Shiga toxigenic E. coli is a major pathogenic form of E. coli. The sugar, called N-glycolylneuraminic acid-containing saccharides, is abundant in cow’s milk and red meat, but low or absent in poultry and fish.

Eight children, between the ages of 4 and 12, have tested positive for the same Escherichia coli bacteria but officials don’t know the connection.  The children live, or have been, in the Evergreen area but don’t attend the same school.  Two of the children remain hospitalized as a result of infections from the potentially deadly bacteria.  State and County health officials are investigating deer or elk droppings, along with other behaviors in the Evergreen area where the children might have all come in contact.  The first infection case involving the E. coli O157: H7 strain was reported in July and the last case was reported on Oct. 22, health officials said.

Cases of confirmed E. coli contamination have authorities looking at a Pitt County petting zoo as a possible source.  The Pitt County Health Department tells WITN News that the petting zoo in question is located at Briley’s Farms on Highway 264.  The Beaufort County Health Department says two children infected with E. coli visited the same zoo and the Pitt County health authorities shut down the that portion of Briley’s as a precaution. The other parts of Briley’s are not effected,  Beaufort County says it is working with health care providers to identify and test additional suspected cases.

This should not come as a surprise.  E. coli outbreaks have been linked to petting zoos for years.  See, Known Cases of Zoonotic Pathogen Outbreaks Associated with State and County Fairs, Petting Zoos, and Community Activities Involving Human-Animal Contact

With E. coli illnesses in nearly every state being reported over the last month, it comes as no surprise that California is getting hit again.  Health officials say two San Diego County elementary school children have been sickened by E. coli.  The San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency said Wednesday that the girls, ages 7 and 9, have been hospitalized and are expected to recover.  The agency says both girls attend Carmel Creek Elementary School, near the city of Del Mar.  Public health officer Wilma Wooten says the school has not been named as the source of the bacteria, but school staff are cooperating with their investigation.

In Illinois and Iowa there are now six confirmed cases of E. coli in the Tri-States, and a source might have been discovered among the ones in Southeast Iowa.  According to the Burlington Hawkeye, late last week, the Des Moines County and Lee County Health Departments each confirmed another infection.  That puts the C. coli case count at three in Lee County, two in Des Moines County, and one in Hancock County.  Yesterday, the Hancock County Health Department released a statement saying their case was unrelated to the recent Iowa infections. The Hawkeye reports that sources close to the Iowa cases believe that unpasteurized apple cider caused children to become sick.

After a day of mediation, we were able to resolve all 25 of the cases we represented in this litigation.  The mediator, Judge Epistein, did a masterful job getting the parties to resolve these cases.  As you might recall, in May 2007, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) begun a multi-state investigation in response to an increase in laboratory reports, first posted on the PulseNet on April 2, 2007, of Salmonella Wandsworth. Salmonella Wandsworth is a very rare serotype that was never before implicated in a U.S. outbreak. As of September 6, 2007, there were 69 reported cases of Salmonella Wandsworth in 23 states and 14 cases of Salmonella Typhimurium in six states who became ill after consuming Veggie Booty, a puffed vegetable snack food with a raw, dried vegetable coating.  A total of 61 bags were tested in twelve states. Salmonella sp. was isolated from thirteen bags of Veggie Booty. Eleven of the thirteen bags were positive for the outbreak strain of Salmonella Wandsworth and one bag was positive for Salmonella Typhimurium and Enterobacter sakazakii. One bag tested positive for Salmonella Kentucky. CDC reported Salmonella Haifa and Salmonella Saint Paul were isolated from bags of Veggie Booty.

Five days without a blog post.  My friends were worried that I had been either ground into hamburger or appointed Food Czar by McCain in a last ditch effort to corral the maverick vote.  Well, the truth is that I was finalizing the settlement of the last of the seventy-six E. coli O157:H7 cases we had (including three deaths and twenty-two HUS cases) stemming from the September 2006 Dole E. coli spinach cases.

Although no amount of money can ever take away the suffering and pain caused by a food borne illness outbreak, I hope that my clients can find some piece of mind knowing that by standing up for their rights, they are helping prevent the next outbreak.  All settlements were confidential.

Although the litigation was hard fought, I must compliment the attorneys and insurance carriers for Dole, Natural Selection Foods and Mission Organics for their professionalism in the practice of law and their caring for the welfare of their clients’ customers.  Special mention to Natural Selection Foods for its leadership role in preventing leafy green bacterial outbreaks.  All companies should strive for its standards.

As you might recall, on September 14, 2006, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that a nationwide E. coli outbreak had been associated with the consumption of bagged baby spinach. For fear of E. coli contamination, all bagged spinach was recalled nationwide, and on September 19, 2006, FDA announced that all spinach implicated in the outbreak had been traced back to Natural Selection Foods, a company located in California’s Salinas Valley.  FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed 205 E. coli illnesses associated with the spinach E. coli outbreak, including thirty-one cases of hemolytic uremic syndrome, 104 hospitalizations, and four deaths. Victims of the E. coli outbreak were identified in 26 states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. Wisconsin was the state hardest-hit in the outbreak, with 49 confirmed cases of E. coli. Canada reported one confirmed case.

According to press reports, Hancock County Illinois Health Department learned from the Illinois Department of Public Health that lab results confirmed the existence of the E. coli O157:H7 bacteria in a case reported as "possible" last week. Confirmation of the case brings the tally of E. coli 0157:H7 cases in the area up to four, including two confirmed in Lee County last week and one confirmed in Des Moines County on Monday. The source of contamination, or whether the cases are connected, remains undetermined at this time.

With outbreaks in Washington, Vermont, Colorado, Michigan and Illinois in the past few weeks, my guess is that this Iowa/Illinois outbreak will be determined.

The Food Industry Center at the University of Minnesota has published a case study of last year’s botulism recall. The Castleberry’s: 2007 Botulism Recall publication examines this nationwide recall in a case study that "illustrates the complexity of the food industry."  The case study was funded by the National Center for Food Protection and Defense is available as a free Adobe Acrobat download here.

The first lawsuit stemming from the Snohomish county E. coli outbreak was filed today in the Superior Court for the State of Washington, County of Snohomish. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the minor child of Alison and Ray Riojas of Snohomish County, against Ixtapa Family Mexican Restaurant, which has been identified as the source of the outbreak.

The Riojas family ate at the Ixtapa Restaurant in Lake Stevens on or about October 11. One of their daughters began to feel ill on October 13, and on the 14th was sent home from school. She began to experience diarrhea, which soon turned bloody. On October 16, Mrs. Riojas took her daughter to the pediatrician, where she was advised to go to the Children’s Hospital Emergency Room. At the ER, the child was treated for dehydration and released. Over that day, her symptoms continued to worsen. In severe pain, she was returned to the ER, where she was treated with pain medication and allowed to go home. That night, the child was taken to the ER for a third time, where she began to vomit blood. She was admitted, and a stool sample revealed that she was infected with E. coli O157:H7. The genetic pattern of her E. coli would later match others in the developing outbreak tied to the Ixtapa Restaurant.
The Riojas child has returned home where she continues to recover from her illness. She lost 9 pounds and is too weak to walk; if she has to move, her parents carry her.

News Coverage:

Lawsuit filed in E. coli outbreak tied to Lake Stevens restaurant

Lawsuit filed in Snohomish County E. coli outbreak

Lake Stevens eatery reopens as E. coli suit filed

Family files suit in Lake Stevens E. coli sickness