alfalfa-sproutsThe Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) has been working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Kansas Department of Agriculture and the Oklahoma Department of Health to investigate an outbreak of Salmonella linked to sprouts.

Five people in Kansas have become ill as part of this outbreak after consuming sprouts from Sweetwater Farms, Inman, KS. The last date of illness was January 21 in a Kansas resident. In addition, three residents from Oklahoma also have Salmonella infections that match the outbreak strain. Sweetwater Farms was inspected and samples collected of irrigation water and product have tested positive for Salmonella bacteria although the strain has not yet been identified. Sweetwater Farms has decided to voluntarily recall sprouts in lot 042016. Kansas Department of Health and Environment recommends that people not consume any sprout product from Sweetwater Farms at this time.

Salmonella is estimated to cause one million foodborne illnesses in the United States. Most people infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts four to seven days, and most people recover without treatment.

Anyone who believes they may have become ill with Salmonella should contact their health care provider.

KDHE recommends that children, the elderly, pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems avoid eating raw sprouts of any kind due to their potential to harbor harmful bacteria.

BillMarlerPhoto-HeroMaking the food system less complex could be key to cutting down on food contamination, says veteran food safety attorney William Marler.

CYNTHIA GRABER: This is Cynthia Graber reporting for FutureFood 2050. Food safety in the U.S. is still a huge issue today. According to the Centers for Disease Control [and Prevention (CDC)], 48 million Americans a year are sickened by foodborne illnesses, which leads to 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths. In addition to the loss of life, the government estimates the cost from such illnesses in the billions of dollars in terms of lost wages and productivity and medical expenses.

William Marler is a well-known lawyer whose practice, Marler Clark, is called The Food Safety Law Firm. He’s won a number of key lawsuits that have advanced food policy in the U.S. In one of his most famous, he won a landmark case for victims of E. coli contamination from hamburgers purchased at Jack in the Box restaurants in 1993. I asked him about the current state of food safety.

If I got to be the guy with the magic wand, I would do exactly with salmonella what the government did with E. coli 20 years ago, and I would say that you can’t have salmonella in chicken. And industry would adjust.”

—William Marler

P311dhecAccording to the CDC and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, five patients who were treated in a single hospital (Via Christi Saint Francis) in Kansas were infected with one of four rare strains of Listeria monocytogenes. Illness onset dates range from January 2014 to January 2015. Thus far five were sickened and three died. The deaths have been reported to have occurred with patients with a underlying health conditions. One of the victims Richard Porter’s wife Lois spoke out last evening on “Listeriosis victim’s wife speaks out.”

FDA was notified that three strains and four other rare strains of Listeria monocytogenes were found in samples of Blue Bell Creameries single serving Chocolate Chip Country Cookie Sandwich and the Great Divide Bar ice cream products collected by the South Carolina Department of Health & Environmental Control during routine product sampling at a South Carolina distribution center, on February 12, 2015. These products are manufactured at Blue Bell Creameries’ Brenham facility.

The Texas Department of State Health Services, subsequently, collected product samples from the Blue Bell Creameries Brenham facility. These samples yielded Listeria monocytogenes from the same products tested by South Carolina and a third single-serving ice cream product, Scoops, which is also made on the same production line. Three of the patient strains, which are highly similar, have also been found in products manufactured at the Blue Bell Creameries production facility in Brenham, Texas.

Bill Marler made history with the horrendous 1993 Jack in the Box food poisoning outbreak. Marler represented the most seriously ill child, Brianne Kiner. Four children died and hundreds were sickened by under-cooked E. coli:O157 tainted hamburgers. It was the beginning of a long, battle to not only represent victims, but also advocate for tougher food safety laws.

It has been a busy week in the press:

The New Yorker:  A Bug in the System

Why last night’s chicken made you sick.

BY WIL S. HYLTON:  February 2, 2015

A lawyer is leading the fight to keep contaminated food off the supermarket shelf. Continue Reading KTCS 9 INCLOSE – Bill Marler – Food Safety Warrior

“Unprecedented” Settlement Could Mean Jail Time for Elder DeCoster

Host Ben Kieffer talks with Seattle, Washington food safety lawyer Bill Marler, who represented some of those sickened in a 2010 salmonella outbreak caused by contaminated eggs.  This week a settlement was reached with Quality Egg and two of its top executives, Jack and Peter DeCoster.  Marler says Jack DeCoster comes to the court with a “checkered past,” that could make jail time more likely in this case.

Listen 8:55 RTR 6-6-14 News Buzz – interview with Bill Marler on “unprecedented” Salmonella settlement

Collaborative investigation efforts of state, local, and federal public health and regulatory agencies indicate that organic sprouted chia powder distributed by Navitas Naturals of Novato, California is the likely source of what he CDC reports as a total of 12 persons infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Newport reported from 7 states: Arizona (1), California (2), Connecticut (1), Massachusetts (1), New York (4), Utah (1), and Wisconsin (2).  Chia powder is made from ground dried chia seeds.  The FDA announced a recall.  The affected products were distributed nationally and include:

  • Navitas Naturals Organic Sprouted Chia Powder, 8oz, UPC 858847000369 with best buy dates from 04/30/2015 through 09/05/2015
  • Navitas Naturals Omega Blend Sprouted Smoothie Mix, 8oz, UPC 858847000314 with best buy dates from 07/29/2015 through 09/19/2015
  • Williams-Sonoma Omega 3 Smoothie Mixer, 8 oz, SKU 506436 with best buy dates from 09/12/2015 through 10/02/2015

Salmonella is an organism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy persons infected with Salmonella often experience fever, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. In rare circumstances, infection with Salmonella can result in the organism getting into the bloodstream and producing more severe illnesses.

Fuego’s Tortilla Grill Restaurant voluntarily shut down today amid an investigation by the Brazos County Health Department into an outbreak of a food-borne illness.  Health department officials said they started looking into a cluster of Salmonella Typhimurium-Ohio serotype cases in September 2013 and have documented 30 cases with 26 being residents of Brazos County or having traveled through the county.  No deaths have been reported.

Sound familiar?  It made me think of past outbreaks and past lawsuits.  Here is a list of Salmonella and E. coli outbreaks – and lawsuits – at Mexican-style restaurants over the last several years.


Café Santa Fe Salmonella Outbreak Lawsuit – Arkansas (2005) On May 1, 2005, the Arkansas Department of Health (ADOH) issued a press release announcing that at least nine people had been confirmed ill with Salmonella infections after eating at the Café Santa Fe restaurant in Benton, Arkansas.  The ADOH instructed anyone who had eaten at the restaurant in the previous seven days, and who was suffering symptoms like cramping, diarrhea, fever, nausea, vomiting, and headache, to seek medical care as soon as possible.  During the epidemiologic investigation into the outbreak, ADOH learned that one or two employees at Café Santa Fe had worked within days of seeking medical treatment for diarrhea or vomiting.  ADOH conducted an environmental inspection of Café Santa Fe on April 30, and inspectors identified several unsafe food-handling practices.

Casa Lopez Salmonella Outbreak Lawsuits – Ohio (2010) In May of 2010, the Athens City County Health Department (ACCHD) began investigating what appeared to be a foodborne illness outbreak among patrons of the Casa Lopez restaurant in Athens, Ohio.  Public health investigators identified a total of 41 culture-confirmed cases of Salmonella serotype Enteritidis.  An additional 14 case-patients who were not laboratory confirmed but were epidemiologically linked to the Casa Lopez restaurant were classified as either “probable” or “suspected” cases.  The investigation into the Salmonella outbreak among Casa Lopez customers revealed several critical violations at the restaurant over multiple inspections.  Investigators concluded that there was a strong association between eating chiles rellenos and Salmonella infection.

Iguana Joe’s Restaurant Salmonella Lawsuit & Litigation – Texas (2013) On June 25, 2013, Harris County Public Health and Environmental Services investigated a report of illness from a customer who had eaten at the Iguana Joe’s restaurant in Humble, Texas.  Iguana Joe’s was temporarily shut down due to critical health violations.  Multiple health inspections revealed dozens of health violations at the restaurant. The health department ultimately linked over a dozen people sick with Salmonella infections to the Iguana Joe’s restaurant.  Seven were children who had fallen ill with Salmonella after eating at the restaurant.

Los Dos Amigos Mexican Restaurant Salmonella Outbreak Lawsuits – Oregon (2010) In April 2010, the Douglas County (Oregon) Health Department announced a Salmonella Enteritidis outbreak linked to Rosenberg-based Mexican restaurant Los Dos Amigos.  When the investigation was completed in May 2010, health officials confirmed at least 30 people had been sickened in the outbreak, which was deemed the result of cross contamination.

On the Border Mexican Restaurant Salmonella Outbreak – Washington (2012) Clark County Public Health investigated the Salmonella outbreak after receiving reports of Salmonella infection from local health care providers.  By October 24, at least 117 confirmed and suspected Salmonella cases had been traced to the restaurant.  At least 4 Salmonella outbreak victims were hospitalized during the Salmonella outbreak.  One remained in the hospital on October 15.  Both patrons and food workers had become ill with Salmonella infections and the source of he Salmonella outbreak had not yet been identified.  According to Clark County Public Health, the serotype of Salmonella associated with this outbreak was Salmonella Virchow, a rare strain of Salmonella that has never before been seen in Clark County.

San Antonio Taco Salmonella Outbreak Lawsuits – Tennessee (2000) In August of 2000, over 200 people became ill with Salmonella infections after eating food from a San Antonio Taco Company franchise located in Nashville, Tennessee.  After it became aware of the outbreak, the Metropolitan Health Department (MHD) of Nashville conducted an investigation into the outbreak, including an environmental health inspection of the restaurant and an epidemiologic investigation.  During the inspection on August 10, MHD noted several sources of possible cross-contamination.

Taco Bell Salmonella Hartford and Baildon Outbreak Lawsuits – Nationwide (2010) In early August, 2010 Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced that they had identified two multi-state outbreaks of Salmonella, encompassing 155 ill persons in 21 states.  Although CDC referred to the source as an unnamed Mexican Food Chain “Restaurant Chain A”, it was later revealed that the restaurant was Taco Bell.  Not all of the illnesses are connected to the restaurant chain, and no specific location is indicated. The two strains (or serotypes) of Salmonella in the outbreaks are quite rare: Salmonella Hartford and Salmonella Baildon.  Since April 1, 2010, a total of 75 individuals infected with a matching strain of Salmonella Hartford have been reported from 15 states.  The number of ill people identified in each state is as follows: Colorado (1 ill), GA (1 ill), IL (5), IN (11), KY (23), MA (2), MI (3), MT (1), NC (1), NH (1), NY (1), OH (19), PA (1), SC (1) and WI (4).  As of May 1, 2010 a total of 80 individuals infected with a matching strain of Salmonella Baildon have been reported from 15 states.  Some states are involved in both outbreaks – others are not.  The number of ill people identified in each state with Salmonella Baildon is as follows: CT (1), GA (1), IA (1), IL (20), IN (4), KY (5), MA (1), MI (4), MN (5), NJ (6), NY (2), OH (6), OR (1), WA (1) and WI (22).

Taco Bell Salmonella Outbreak Lawsuits – Multistate (2012) On January 19, 2012 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced an investigation into a Salmonella Enteritidis outbreak that had sickened 68 people and hospitalized 21 in the following 10 states:  Texas (43), Oklahoma (16), Kansas (2), Iowa (1), Michigan (1), Missouri (1), Nebraska (1), New Mexico (1), Ohio (1), and Tennessee (1).  The CDC would only say that a Mexican-style fast food restaurant chain, referred to only as “Restaurant A” was the source of the outbreak.  In the days and weeks that followed the announcement the CDC never named the company and defended its decision stating that the contaminated food was no longer in circulation and, thus was no longer a risk to consumers.

E. coli

Federico’s Mexican Restaurant: According to the Maricopa County Department of Public Health, at least 94 people fell ill with E. coli infections after eating food purchased at Federico’s in late July and early August of 2013.  Of those, at least 23 people were hospitalized due to their E. coli infections, some with hemolytic uremic syndrome, a complication of E. coli infection that can lead to kidney failure.  The health department issued a final report in November 2013.  In the report, MCDPH states that lettuce was the source of the E. coli outbreak at Federico’s.  The health department investigation did not conclusively answer whether the lettuce was cross-contaminated with another food in the restaurant or if the lettuce entered the restaurant already contaminated.

Los Burritos Mexicanos: An E. coli outbreak in DuPage County, Illinois, is suspected to have been caused by food served at the Los Burritos Mexicanos restaurant in Lombard.  The restaurant was closed on June 14, 2013 during an E. coli outbreak investigation.  The DuPage County Health Department counted 31 confirmed and probable E. coli cases as part of the Los Burritos Mexicanos outbreak.

Ixtapa Family Mexican Restaurant:  In October of 2008, Snohomish County Health Department (SCHD) epidemiologists investigated an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak among patrons of the Ixtapa Family Mexican Restaurant in Lake Stevens, Washington.  Dates of illness onset ranged from October 7-17, 2008.  An investigation by the SCHD and the Washington State Department of Health (WSDOH) identified sixty-four cases of E. coli infection linked to the consumption of food at Ixtapa restaurant.  Four confirmed cases were hospitalized, and one developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a severe complication of E. coli that can lead to kidney failure.

El Mexicano Mexican Restaurant:  In May of 2012, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) announced that it was investigating an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 that had sickened 11 individuals in the Spartanburg area. All 11 victims reported eating at the same El Mexicano Mexican restaurant. Two of the victims developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). Illnesses were related to eating at the restaurant during the last week of April.

Coco Locos Restaurant: In May 2013, the source of an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in Brazos County, Texas is being investigated by public health officials and is believed to have been caused by E. coli-contaminated ground beef served at the Coco Locos restaurant located in 300 block of George Bush Drive in College Station, TX.  According to news reports, at least 10 people were part of the E. coli outbreak, which has been linked to ground beef served at the restaurant.  Health officials have not yet determined whether the E. coli outbreak stemmed from under-cooked ground beef or from cross-contamination between raw ground beef and other foods or surfaces in the restaurant kitchen.

Habaneros Mexican Restaurant: In late August of 2003, staff in the Communicable Disease (CD) section at the St. Clair County Health Department (SCCHD) received a report that four Illinois residents who had recently traveled to the St. Clair area were experiencing bloody diarrhea and had gone to emergency rooms in their respective hometowns for treatment.  On Tuesday, September 2, SCCHD was notified that E. coli O157:H7 had been isolated from at least one of the four people’s stool specimens.  At the same time, the SCCHD began receiving other reports of diarrheal illness in patients seen by local physicians.  Preliminary interviews of ill persons revealed that all had eaten at Habaneros prior to the onset of diarrhea.   SCCHD conducted a foodborne outbreak investigation and found that of 64 persons, including seven employees, who had eaten at Habaneros between August 15, 2003 and September 5, 2003, thirty (47%) reported having diarrheal symptoms; ten sought medical care.  An extensive food consumption history was obtained from each person interviewed, but no specific food-item was statistically associated with illness.

Taco Johns:  In December 2006, Iowa and Minnesota health officials investigated an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak among patrons at Taco John’s restaurants in Cedar Falls, Iowa, and Albert Lea and Austin, Minnesota. As of December 13, 2006, the Iowa Department of Health had confirmed that at least 50 Iowans had become ill with E. coli infections after eating at Taco John’s, and the Minnesota Department of Health had confirmed that at least 27 Minnesotans were part of the outbreak.

Taco Bell:  Taco Bell restaurants were the source of an E. coli outbreak during the last week of November and the beginning of December 2006. Residents of New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and South Carolina were confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as being part of the Taco Bell E. coli outbreak, which was traced to contaminated lettuce served in foods at Taco Bell restaurants. On December 13, 2006, the CDC announced that at 71 people had become ill with E. coli infections associated with the Taco Bell restaurant outbreak. Of those 71, 53 people had been hospitalized, 48 people were confirmed ill with E. coli, and 8 developed hemolytic uremic syndrome.

As of May 16, 2014, a total of 11 persons infected with the outbreak strains of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli O157:H7 (STEC O157:H7) have been reported from 4 states.The number of ill persons identified in each state is as follows: Massachusetts (1), Michigan (5), Missouri (1), and Ohio (4).60% of ill persons have been hospitalized. No ill persons have developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), and no deaths have been reported.Epidemiologic and traceback investigations conducted by local, state, and federal officials indicate that contaminated ground beef produced by Wolverine Packing Company is the likely source of this outbreak of STEC O157:H7 infections.On May 19, 2014, Wolverine Packing Company voluntarily recalled approximately 1.8 million pounds of ground beef products that may be contaminated with STEC O157:H7.

The products subject to recall bear the establishment number “2574B.”

The recalled ground beef was shipped to distributors for retail and restaurant use nationwide.