A young woman who was hospitalized for seven days after eating raw cookie dough made by Nestle USA filed suit today against the company in California Superior Court, San Mateo County. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of 18-year-old Jillian Collins by her attorneys, William Marler of the Seattle-based foodborne illness law firm Marler Clark and Terry O’ Reilly of the San Mateo firm O’Reilly Collins.
San Mateo resident Jillian Collins ate uncooked Nestle Toll House cookie dough in late May, 2009. On May 26, she fell ill with painful abdominal cramps and diarrhea that soon turned bloody. Her symptoms worsened to the point where she sought urgent care. She was later admitted to the hospital, where tests revealed that she was infected with E. coli O157:H7. The genetic fingerprint of her test matched that of the outbreak strain which has infected 65 people in 29 states to date.
This outbreak is an example of how virulent E. coli bacteria can be, and how many people can be affected when it enters the national food supply, Nestle USA is a company with a good food safety record, and they worked very quickly to get a voluntary recall of the product started. But even that isn’t enough for those who were sickened in this outbreak. It points to how vigilant we need to be in our food safety regulation and oversight.
The first announcement about the multi-state outbreak was made on Thursday, June 18 by the Colorado Department of Health and Environment (CDPHE), warning consumers about consuming the uncooked Nestle Toll House cookie dough product, and revealing that more than sixty were confirmed ill in 28 states. It wasn’t until late Friday, June 19 that the CDC released their outbreak information, which updated the totals to 65 ill in 29 states.
Nestle has stopped production at the Virginia facility that produced the cookie dough. Everyone I talk to is stumped by how a bacteria normally associated with cattle feces made its way into the facility, and then into such a highly processed product. We may not solve that mystery; what we can do is work to prevent this type of event from happening again. The way to do that is better food safety surveillance – and that comes down to legislation and funding.