Dateline takes a look at problems in food safety. What’s behind last year’s rash of E. coli outbreaks? And is there anything the FDA can do to safeguard our produce?

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One victim’s story

Michelle Matthews of Eagle Creek, Utah, and her 2-year-old daughter Arabella both became seriously ill from spinach in early Sept. 2006. Arbella’s kidneys shut down and she had to undergo dialysis and multiple blood transfusions.

“I thought, ‘There’s no way someone can suffer that much and survive,'” recalls Michelle.

According to Matthews, the doctors were upfront about the health dangers E. coli posed. There’s no antidote for E. coli poisoning. Doctors just treat the symptoms and hope for the best.

And it didn’t take much produce to poison little Arabella. “She had had a sandwich with spinach on it,” says Michelle. “It was just a few leaves.”

Arabella managed to pull through, but another toddler, 2-year-old Kyle Allgood, was not as fortunate. He was one of four who died in the outbreak.

“We can say all day long that we have the safest food system in the world,” says Seattle attorney Bill Marler, who specializes in cases involving victims of E. coli-contaminated produce. “Well, we don’t. And we have systems that are broken. We have things that need to be fixed.”

Marler represents Michelle Matthews, who is suing Dole Foods and Natural Selections/Earthbound Foods to cover her past and future medical bills and her pain and suffering. He says the industry has known about and ignored the problem for years.

“It’s easy in these situations to go, ‘I’m not sure exactly what caused the problem, so there’s nothing I can do. But I’m making a lot of money selling spinach and lettuce in a bag, so I’m going to keep doing that.’ They didn’t take the time to figure out what the problem was,” says Marler.

A Taco Bell victim

Web-extra: Stephen Minnis of Pennsylvania never thought he would be susceptible to E. coli poisoning. He got sick after eating contaminated lettuce, and now has little trust in vegetable food safety.

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