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Food Poison Journal

Food Poisoning Outbreaks and Litigation: Surveillance and Analysis

Listeria Recall: Bleating Heart Cheese

Bleating Heart Cheese (BHC) is conducting a voluntary recall of a few of its sheep milk and cow’s milk cheese produced in late May, late June and early July of 2014, based on sampling by the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) that found the presence of Listeria monocytogenes in at least one sample of the following cheeses. At this time, no illnesses have been reported, but to reduce possible health risks and ensure that all suspect product is removed from the marketplace, BHC is initiating this voluntary recall in cooperation with the California Departments of Food & Agriculture and Public Health.

  1. Ewelicious Blue” – natural rind, aged 2 – 3 months, identifying code 14-0618 on the bottom side of the label
  2. Fat Bottom Girl” – natural rind, aged 2 – 3 months, identifying code 14-0702 on the bottom side of the label
  3. Goldette Tommette” – natural rind, aged 2 – 3 months, identifying code 14-0527 on the bottom side of the label

These specific cheeses and lot numbers were distributed or sold beginning on October, 2014 to distributors servicing the San Francisco Bay area retail food shops, restaurants and stores. Anyone that has distributed the cheese identified above need to immediately notify their customers of the voluntary recall and instruct them to return any affected cheese to the distributor for a full refund. The cost of the returned cheese will be covered by Bleating Heart Cheese, upon proof of purchase. Any of the above cheese still in a distributor’s inventory needs to isolated/quarantined and prepared for return to Bleating Heart Cheese, which will provide a full refund upon receipt of the cheese and verification of its identity.

Listeria monocytogenes is a bacteria which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, pregnant women and others with weakened immune systems. Although healthy individuals may suffer only short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea, Listeria infection can cause miscarriages, stillbirths and fetal infection among pregnant women.

Another Sprout Outbreak – We need a Warning Label, says Marler

William Marler, an attorney specializing in food safety, warns about the danger of sprouts and that they are not as “healthy” as they seem – Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania hardest hit.

Another sprout-related Salmonella outbreak earlier this month has prompted the attorneys of the Seattle law firm, Marler Clark, to call on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to require warnings on packaging of all raw sprouts. Marler Clark specializes in cases involving foodborne illness.

As of December 15, 2014, a total of 111 people infected with the outbreak strains of Salmonella Enteritidis have been reported from 12 states linked to Wonton sprouts. Illnesses have surfaced in Connecticut (8), Maine (4), Maryland (5), Massachusetts (35), Montana (1), New Hampshire (6), New York (21), Ohio (3), Pennsylvania (17), Rhode Island (7), Vermont (3) and Virginia (1).  Twenty-six percent of ill persons have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported. Collaborative investigation efforts of state, local, and federal public health and regulatory agencies indicate that bean sprouts produced by Wonton Foods, Inc. of New York are the likely source of this outbreak.

“According to the FDA’s own 1999 advisory, Recommendations on Sprouted Seeds, sprouts have been increasingly implicated in foodborne outbreaks. The time has come to label sprouts as potentially hazardous,” says William Marler, the firm’s managing partner. He suggests this labeling mirror the requirements now found on unpasteurized juices:

WARNING: This product may contain harmful bacteria that can cause serious illness in children, the elderly, and persons with weakened immune systems.

As far back as September 1998, the FDA and CDC issued a warning against sprouts urging, children, pregnant women, and the elderly that they should not eat alfalfa sprouts until growers find a way to reduce the risk of E. coli. They also warned that any people with weakened immune systems should avoid eating sprouts as well.

Although sprouts are often considered a “health food,” the warm, humid conditions needed for growing sprouts from seeds are also ideal for bacteria to flourish. Salmonella, E. coli, and other bacteria can grow to high levels without affecting the appearance of the sprouts.

Researchers have treated both seeds and sprouts with heat or washed them in solutions of chlorine, alcohol, and other chemicals. Some of these disinfectants reduced the levels of bacteria, but a potential hazard remained, especially for persons with weak immune systems. High temperatures that would kill the bacteria on the seeds would also keep them from sprouting.

“Until an effective way is found to prevent illness from sprouts, they should be eaten with caution, if at all,” says Marler. “Most people don’t understand the risks. The reality is most assume that something so “natural” is healthy, but the opposite is true—people who eat sprouts are gambling with their health each and every time they add them to a salad or sandwich. A warning label would go a long way towards explaining the real risks of sprouts.”

My friends at Barf Blog document at least 55 sprout-associated outbreaks occurring worldwide affecting a total of 15,233 people since 1988. A comprehensive table of sprout-related outbreaks can be found HERE.

Bill Marler is an accomplished food safety advocate and attorney. He began litigating foodborne illness cases in 1993, when he successfully represented Brianne Kiner, the most seriously injured survivor of the Jack in the Box E. coli O157:H7 outbreak. Over the years, Bill and his firm, Marler Clark, have become the leaders in representing victims of foodborne illness. Marler Clark, The Food Safety Law Firm, is the nation’s leading law firm representing victims of hepatitis A outbreaks.

Bill spends much of his time traveling to address food industry groups, fair associations, and public health groups about foodborne illness, related litigation, and surrounding issues. He has testified before Congress as well as State Legislatures. He is a frequent author of articles related to foodborne illness in food safety journals and magazines as well as on his personal blog, www.marlerblog.com. Bill also recently founded Food Safety News (www.foodsafetynews.com) as a one-stop resource for global food safety news and information.

Marler Clark Files Massachusetts E. coli Case

AP reports that our clients, Melissa and Andrew Kay, whose 8-year-old son Joshua died after eating ground beef contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 filed suit against Whole Foods Market and Doniphan, Missouri-based Rain Crow Ranch, according to court documents. The couple is seeking unspecified damages.

The couple bought the grass-fed ground beef at a Whole Foods in South Weymouth, Mass., according to the lawsuit which was filed in US District Court in Boston. Two other individuals also became sick. On Aug. 15, Whole Foods Markets in South Weymouth and Newton, Mass. recalled 368 lbs. of ground-beef products on concerns of E. coli O157:H7 contamination.

Court documents state that traceback investigation indicated all three individuals consumed ground beef purchased from two Whole Foods locations before betting sick. Joshua Kaye was later admitted to Boston Children’s Hospital. He had developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a complication of E. coli O157:H7 infection. Joshua Kaye died on July 7.

A stool sample taken from Joshua Kaye resulted in an E. coli 0157:H7 positive culture that identically matched the Whole Foods Market E. coli 0157:H7 outbreak strain, court documents said.

E. coli:  Marler Clark, The Food Safety Law Firm, is the nation’s leading law firm representing victims of E. coli outbreaks and hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). The E. coli lawyers of Marler Clark have represented thousands of victims of E. coli and other foodborne illness infections and have recovered over $600 million for clients. Marler Clark is the only law firm in the nation with a practice focused exclusively on foodborne illness litigation.  Our E. coli lawyers have litigated E. coli and HUS cases stemming from outbreaks traced to ground beef, raw milk, lettuce, spinach, sprouts, and other food products.  The law firm has brought E. coli lawsuits against such companies as Jack in the Box, Dole, ConAgra, Cargill, and Jimmy John’s.  We have proudly represented such victims as Brianne Kiner, Stephanie Smith and Linda Rivera.

Wonton Salmonella Sprout Outbreak Update – 111 Sick – Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania Hardest Hit

The CDC reports as of December 15, 2014, a total of 111 people infected with the outbreak strains of Salmonella Enteritidis have been reported from 12 states. Connecticut (8), Maine (4), Maryland (5), Massachusetts (35), Montana (1), New Hampshire (6), New York (21), Ohio (3), Pennsylvania (17), Rhode Island (7), Vermont (3) and Virginia (1).  Twenty-six percent of ill persons have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported.

Collaborative investigation efforts of state, local, and federal public health and regulatory agencies indicate that bean sprouts produced by Wonton Foods, Inc. are the likely source of this outbreak.   On November 21, 2014, Wonton Foods Inc. agreed to destroy any remaining products while they conducted a thorough cleaning and sanitation and implemented other Salmonella control measures. On November 24, the firm completed the cleaning and sanitation and resumed production of bean sprouts. The firm resumed shipment on November 29, 2014.

CDC recommends that consumers, restaurants, and other retailers always practice food safety for sprouts.  Children, older adults, pregnant women, and persons with weakened immune systems should avoid eating raw sprouts of any kind (including alfalfa, clover, radish, and mung bean sprouts).  Cook sprouts thoroughly to reduce the risk of illness. Cooking sprouts thoroughly kills any harmful bacteria.