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Food Poison Journal Food Poisoning Outbreaks and Litigation: Surveillance and Analysis

Monthly Archives: June 2011

Salmonella Attorney and Lawyer Bill Marler available for Media Background on Salmonella Outbreaks

Marler.jpgAn accomplished personal injury lawyer and national expert in foodborne illness litigation, William Marler has been a major force in food safety policy in the United States and abroad.  He and his partners at Marler Clark have represented thousands of individuals in claims against food companies whose contaminated products have caused serious injury and death.  His advocacy for better food regulation has led to invitations to address local, national, and international gatherings on food safety, including recent testimony to US Congress Committee on Energy and Commerce.  Marler Clark is considered the nation’s foremost law firm representing victims of foodborne illness and other serious personal injuries.

William Marler began litigating foodborne illness cases in 1993, when he represented Brianne Kiner, the most seriously injured survivor of the Jack in the Box E. coli O157:H7 outbreak, resulting in her landmark $15.6 million settlement.  Marler has focused his practice on representing individuals in litigation resulting from E. coli, Salmonella, Shigella, hepatitis A, and other food contamination cases.  He has represented victims of nearly every large foodborne illness outbreak in the United States against such companies as Wholesale Club, Chili’s, Chi-Chi’s, ConAgra, Dole, Excel, Golden Corral, KFC, Sheetz, Sizzler, Supervalu, and Wendy’s, securing over $600,000,000 for his clients.

Mr. Marler travels widely to speak to food industry groups, fair associations, and public health groups about the litigation of claims resulting from outbreaks of pathogenic bacteria and viruses and the issues surrounding it.  He is also a frequent writer on topics related to foodborne illness.  His articles include “Separating the Chaff from the Wheat: How to Determine the Strength of a Foodborne Illness Claim”, “Food Claims and Litigation”, How to Keep Your Focus on Food Safety, and “How to Document a Food Poisoning Case” (co-authored with David Babcock.)  His blog, www.marlerblog.com is avidly read by the food safety and legal communities.

2011 – More Stomach Churning Facts About E. coli
New York Times, Mark Bittman, June 8.

2011 – Bill Marler: A Personal Injury Attorney and More
The Xemplar, Nicole Black, June 1

2011 – Good Food Hero: Bill Marler, Food Safety Attorney
Good Food World, Gail Nickel-Kailing, May 23

2011 - Poisoned: The True Story of the Deadly E. coli Outbreak that Changed the Way Americans Eat
Inspire Books, Jeff Benedict, May 15.

2011 – New Book Chronicles Islander, Marler’s Work
Bainbridge Island Review, Connie Mears, May 13.

2010 – Food Safety Lawyer Puts His Money Where Your Mouth Is
AOL News, Andrew Schneider, September 29

2009 – Food Safety Lawyer’s Wish: Put Me Out of Business
Seattle Times, Maureen O’Hagan, November 23

2009 – WSU Discourse on Food Safety, Courtesy Seattle Lawyer
Kitsap Sun, Tristan Baurick,  August 29

2009 – When Food Sickens, He Heads for Courthouse
Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Matt McKinney, June 24

2009 -  Bill Marler, The Food-Safety Litigator
Culinate, Miriam Wolf, April

2009 – Food Fight:Bill Marler’s Beef (PDF)
Washington Law & Politics, David Volk, May

2009 – Candidate for Top FSIS Job talks E. coli Testing, Irradiation, Education
The Meating Place, Ann Bagel Storck, February 6

2009 – Five Minutes with Bill Marler, Well Known Lawyer, Food Safety Activist
CattleNetwork, Chuck Jolley, February 5

2009 – Heath Surveillance the Key to Fresh Produce
The Packer, Tom Karst, February 3

2008 – Seattle Food Contamination Expert in China as Tainted Milk Sickens Thousands of Kids
Seattle Health Examiner, September 23

2008 -  E. Coli Lawyer Is Busier Than Ever
Associated Press, February 4

2007 -  Legally Speaking: The Food Poisoning Lawyer
The Southeast Texas Record, John G. Browning, November 20

2007 -  The Nation’s Leading Food-borne Illness Attorney Tells All
Washington State Magazine, Hannelore Sudermann, August

2007 -  Back to Court: Burst of E. coli Cases Returns Jack in the Box Litigator to the Scene
Meat and Poultry News, Steve Bjerklie, June 8

2007 – Food Fight
Portland Oregonian, Alex Pulaski, March

2007 -  Mr. Food Illness Esquire
QSR Magazine, Fred Minnick, February

2006 -  Seattle Attorney Dominates Food-Borne Illness Litigation
KPLU, October 20

2006 -  How a Tiny Law Firm Made Hay Out of Tainted Spinach
The Wall Street Journal, Heather Won Tesoriero and Peter Lattman, September 27

2005 – Bill Marler – Education Holds Key in Tainted Food Fight
King County Bar Association Bar Bulletin, Ross Anderson, November

2001 -  THE INSIDE STORY: How 11 Schoolkids Got $4.75 Million in E. coli Lawsuit
MeatingPlace.com, Bryan Salvage, March 7

2001 -  Hammer Time: Preparation Pays When Disputes Escalate to Lawsuits
Meat & Poultry Magazine, David Hendee

2001 -  For Seattle Attorney, A Bacterium Brings Riches—and Enemies
The Wall Street Journal, Rachel Zimmerman

2001 -  The Bug That Ate The Burger
Los Angeles Times, Emily Green, June

1999 -  Courting Publicity, Attorney Makes Safe Food His Business
Seattle Post, Maggie Leung, September 7

CFIA Warns That Certain Sandwich Products May Contain Listeria

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and King’s Processing Ltd., (Establishment number 514) Alberton, PEI, are warning the public not to consume certain sandwich products because these products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. The products affected by this alert include sandwiches, subs, wraps, burgers, breakfast muffins and bagels. For a complete list of the products see CFIA’s press release.

These products are known to have been distributed in Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.

Although there have been no reported illnesses associated with the consumption of these products, the manufacturer is voluntarily recalling the affected products from the marketplace.

Food contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes may not look or smell spoiled. Consumption of food contaminated with these bacteria may cause listeriosis, a foodborne illness. Listeriosis can cause high fever, severe headache, neck stiffness and nausea. Pregnant women, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems are particularly at risk. Infected pregnant women may experience only a mild, flu-like illness, however, infections during pregnancy can lead to premature delivery, infection of the newborn, or even stillbirth.

For more information consumers and industry can call the CFIA at 1-800-442-2342 / TTY 1-800-465-7735 (8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern time, Monday to Friday).

E. coli Attorney and Lawyer Bill Marler available for Media Background on E. coli Outbreaks

PICMarler.jpgAn accomplished personal injury lawyer and national expert in foodborne illness litigation, William Marler has been a major force in food safety policy in the United States and abroad.  He and his partners at Marler Clark have represented thousands of individuals in claims against food companies whose contaminated products have caused serious injury and death.  His advocacy for better food regulation has led to invitations to address local, national, and international gatherings on food safety, including recent testimony to US Congress Committee on Energy and Commerce.  Marler Clark is considered the nation’s foremost law firm representing victims of foodborne illness and other serious personal injuries.

William Marler began litigating foodborne illness cases in 1993, when he represented Brianne Kiner, the most seriously injured survivor of the Jack in the Box E. coli O157:H7 outbreak, resulting in her landmark $15.6 million settlement.  Marler has focused his practice on representing individuals in litigation resulting from E. coli, Salmonella, Shigella, hepatitis A, and other food contamination cases.  He has represented victims of nearly every large foodborne illness outbreak in the United States against such companies as Wholesale Club, Chili’s, Chi-Chi’s, ConAgra, Dole, Excel, Golden Corral, KFC, Sheetz, Sizzler, Supervalu, and Wendy’s, securing over $600,000,000 for his clients.

Mr. Marler travels widely to speak to food industry groups, fair associations, and public health groups about the litigation of claims resulting from outbreaks of pathogenic bacteria and viruses and the issues surrounding it.  He is also a frequent writer on topics related to foodborne illness.  His articles include “Separating the Chaff from the Wheat: How to Determine the Strength of a Foodborne Illness Claim”, “Food Claims and Litigation”, How to Keep Your Focus on Food Safety, and “How to Document a Food Poisoning Case” (co-authored with David Babcock.)  His blog, www.marlerblog.com is avidly read by the food safety and legal communities.

2011 – More Stomach Churning Facts About E. coli
New York Times, Mark Bittman, June 8.

2011 – Bill Marler: A Personal Injury Attorney and More
The Xemplar, Nicole Black, June 1

2011 – Good Food Hero: Bill Marler, Food Safety Attorney
Good Food World, Gail Nickel-Kailing, May 23

2011 - Poisoned: The True Story of the Deadly E. coli Outbreak that Changed the Way Americans Eat
Inspire Books, Jeff Benedict, May 15.

2011 – New Book Chronicles Islander, Marler’s Work
Bainbridge Island Review, Connie Mears, May 13.

2010 – Food Safety Lawyer Puts His Money Where Your Mouth Is
AOL News, Andrew Schneider, September 29

2009 – Food Safety Lawyer’s Wish: Put Me Out of Business
Seattle Times, Maureen O’Hagan, November 23

2009 – WSU Discourse on Food Safety, Courtesy Seattle Lawyer
Kitsap Sun, Tristan Baurick,  August 29

2009 – When Food Sickens, He Heads for Courthouse
Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Matt McKinney, June 24

2009 -  Bill Marler, The Food-Safety Litigator
Culinate, Miriam Wolf, April

2009 – Food Fight:Bill Marler’s Beef (PDF)
Washington Law & Politics, David Volk, May

2009 – Candidate for Top FSIS Job talks E. coli Testing, Irradiation, Education
The Meating Place, Ann Bagel Storck, February 6

2009 – Five Minutes with Bill Marler, Well Known Lawyer, Food Safety Activist
CattleNetwork, Chuck Jolley, February 5

2009 – Heath Surveillance the Key to Fresh Produce
The Packer, Tom Karst, February 3

2008 – Seattle Food Contamination Expert in China as Tainted Milk Sickens Thousands of Kids
Seattle Health Examiner, September 23

2008 -  E. Coli Lawyer Is Busier Than Ever
Associated Press, February 4

2007 -  Legally Speaking: The Food Poisoning Lawyer
The Southeast Texas Record, John G. Browning, November 20

2007 -  The Nation’s Leading Food-borne Illness Attorney Tells All
Washington State Magazine, Hannelore Sudermann, August

2007 -  Back to Court: Burst of E. coli Cases Returns Jack in the Box Litigator to the Scene
Meat and Poultry News, Steve Bjerklie, June 8

2007 – Food Fight
Portland Oregonian, Alex Pulaski, March

2007 -  Mr. Food Illness Esquire
QSR Magazine, Fred Minnick, February

2006 -  Seattle Attorney Dominates Food-Borne Illness Litigation
KPLU, October 20

2006 -  How a Tiny Law Firm Made Hay Out of Tainted Spinach
The Wall Street Journal, Heather Won Tesoriero and Peter Lattman, September 27

2005 – Bill Marler – Education Holds Key in Tainted Food Fight
King County Bar Association Bar Bulletin, Ross Anderson, November

2001 -  THE INSIDE STORY: How 11 Schoolkids Got $4.75 Million in E. coli Lawsuit
MeatingPlace.com, Bryan Salvage, March 7

2001 -  Hammer Time: Preparation Pays When Disputes Escalate to Lawsuits
Meat & Poultry Magazine, David Hendee

2001 -  For Seattle Attorney, A Bacterium Brings Riches—and Enemies
The Wall Street Journal, Rachel Zimmerman

2001 -  The Bug That Ate The Burger
Los Angeles Times, Emily Green, June

1999 -  Courting Publicity, Attorney Makes Safe Food His Business
Seattle Post, Maggie Leung, September 7

Bill Marler Calls on City of Opelika to Pay Splash Park E. coli Victims’ Healthcare Costs

Storye.c oli.jpgE. coli attorney Bill Marler is calling on the City of Opelika to pay medical expenses incurred by victims of a recent E. coli O157:H7 outbreak linked to the Opelika SportsPlex and Aquatics Center Splash Park. 

According to the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADHP), at least 13 children and two adults experienced severe gastrointestinal illness after playing and swimming at the Aquatic Center and Splash Park between June 4 and June 22.  Five children who visited the Splash Park, which is run by the Opelika Parks and Recreation Department, have tested positive for E. coli O157:H7 infection.  Four children were initially hospitalized and two remained so as of June 29.

“It’s highly unfortunate when something as innocent as a day at the pool turns into such a painful event,” said Marler. “The City ought to make sure the families affected by this are taken care of.  It is simply the right thing to do.”

Marler’s firm, Marler Clark, has represented hundreds of victims of past water park outbreaks. In 1998 the firm represented victims of an E. coli outbreak linked to a water park in Atlanta in which many of children developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a complication of E. coli infection that can cause acute kidney failure.  In 2005 he represented over 600 people infected with Cryptosporidium at a spray park in central New York. 

Marler believes water parks need to do a better job of monitoring water quality to ensure safety for park users. “It is paramount that water parks stick to the CDC guidelines for chlorine and pH levels to ensure the safety of all swimmers,” he said.  “While the failure to do so might seem like a simple oversight, the sometimes life-changing ramifications felt by E. coli victims–especially those who suffer HUS—and their families prove otherwise.” 

E. coli can be transmitted through the ingestion of contaminated food or water.  Symptoms of infection may include sudden abdominal pain, severe cramping, and bloody diarrhea.  In about 10 percent of E. coli cases HUS occurs 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises people choosing to use water parks to take the following precautions:

  • Don’t swim when you have diarrhea
  • Don’t swallow pool water
  • Shower, or wash your child, with soap and water before swimming
  • Wash your hands with soap and water after using a toilet or after changing diapers
  • Take your children on bathroom breaks or check diapers often
  • Change diapers in a bathroom and not at poolside

Bill Marler To Sprout Industry: Face Reality, Sprouts Can Sicken and Kill

sprouts2.jpgIn the face of recent E. coli and Salmonella outbreaks linked to sprouts, food safety advocate and attorney Bill Marler, managing partner of Seattle-based Marler Clark, is calling on seed and sprout producers to take a hard, realistic look at the danger their product poses to consumers.

Though the month of June was dubbed “International Sprout Health & Wellness Month” by the International Sprout Growers Association (ISGA), the world has seen at least three sprout-based foodborne illness outbreaks this month, including the deadliest in history: the E. coli O104:H4 outbreak in Germany that has killed nearly 50, landed over 800 in the hospital with hemolytic uremic syndrome, and sickened 4,000. More recently, France has seen a cluster of E. coli O104:H4 infections related to sprout seeds, and in the U.S., an Idaho sprout farm had been linked to at least 21 Salmonella illnesses as of June 28th.  According to OutbreakDatabase.com there have been a total four sprout-based foodborne illness outbreaks in 2011 and 48 since 1991.

“We’ve seen about 4,000 people get sick this year.  Another 44 have died because they ate sprouts, and I don’t think it is altogether clear what sprout growers are planning to do about it,” said Marler.

In January of this year, Marler donated $10,000 to the ISGA for improving the safety of sprouts. In an interview with the agriculture news organization The Packer, ISGA president Bob Sanderson said Marler’s donation would help speed implementation of a food safety audit for sprouts and anticipated a start to the audit of February 1, 2011. However, in June the ISGA told Food Safety News the audit was still being developed.

In light of the most recent sprout-related outbreaks, Marler renewed his call on the sprout industry to put warning labels on sprout packaging. 

“If this were another product that wasn’t considered a healthy food, we as a society would have a much bigger issue with the atrocious food safety track record of sprouts, but because sprouts are considered healthy—the ISGA even touts them as a ‘wonder food’, our first reaction isn’t to associate risk with consumption,” said Marler.

“Those of us entrenched in food safety know how dangerous sprouts can be, but the average person does not.  At the very least, consumers deserve to be given equal information regarding the risks and benefits of sprouts.  A warning label would provide this.”

According to the FDA, sprouts pose a special problem because of the potential for pathogen growth during the sprouting process. 

Marler specifically urges seed and sprout producers to adopt the following measures to prevent pathogen growth on sprouts and protect consumers:

  1. Seed manufacturers must adopt good agricultural practices to limit bacterial contamination on seed plants.
  2. Seed manufacturers must adopt a chemical or other treatment on seeds to kill bacteria
  3. Sprout manufacturers must adopt good manufacturing processes that include the use of clean water, healthy workers and a hygienic environment.
  4. Sprout sellers must place adequate warning labels on all sprout containers informing consumers of bacterial and viral risks associated with sprout consumption.

Alabama Department of Public Health Still Investigating SportsPlex E. coli Outbreak

Water park e coli outbreak.jpgThe Alabama Department of Public Health continues its investigation of an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in Lee County. Thirteen children and two adults who either played in the Splash Park or swam in the pool at the Opelika SportsPlex and Aquatic Center between June 4 and June 22 were identified with severe gastrointestinal illness. Five children have been confirmed positive for E. coli O157:H7 infection.

Four children were initially hospitalized and two remain hospitalized.

The Health Department has contacted the parents of children of seven day care centers that had children at the Splash Park during the period of concern. Symptoms of E. coli can appear up until 10 days after exposure.

“Based on the information that we have now, it appears that the common source of exposure was the Aquatic Center,” said State Health Officer Dr. Donald Williamson. “Because of the risk for outbreak of illness, it is essential that public pools and water parks follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for adequate chlorine and pH levels.”

Illnesses in recreational waters are caused by germs spread by swallowing, breathing in mists or aerosols or having contact with contaminated water in swimming pools, water parks, hot tubs, interactive fountains, water play areas, lakes, rivers or oceans. Infection may also occur by touching the environment in petting zoos and other animal exhibits or by eating food prepared by people who did not wash their hands well after using the toilet.

ADPH notified city officials of possible contamination on June 20. ADPH collected water samples for testing from the facilities at the Aquatic Center. The ADPH Bureau of Clinical Laboratories ran the initial tests which were negative for bacteria. Negative results do not guarantee that bacteria was not present. Additional water samples have been collected and sent to the CDC for testing and results are pending.

Parents have been asked to be alert for symptoms of illness. If a child has nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or abdominal cramps parents should seek medical attention for their child. People with diarrhea caused by potential waterborne pathogens should not use recreational water venues such as swimming pools, water slides and water parks for two weeks after symptoms resolve.

Following CDC guidelines, the City of Opelika has treated all facilities at the Splash Park and Aquatic Center, and the facilities are open.

CDC Investigating Salmonella Outbreak Linked to Sprouts from Evergreen Produce

salmonella-map.jpgYesterday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it was warning consumers not to eat alfalfa sprouts or spicy sprouts from plastic bags labeled “Evergreen Produce” or “Evergreen Produce Inc.,” because the sprouts may be linked to 20 cases of Salmonella poisoning. Yet despite this warning, AP’s Mary Clare Jalonick reported that Evergreen Produce has not recalled its sprout products from the market. Specifically, when interviewed, co-owner of Evergreen Produce, Nadine Scharf, responded that she didn’t believe FDA had enough evidence to link the illnesses to the company’s products. However, according to Jalonick’s report, “The agency’s warning to consumers Monday is an unusual step that the agency will generally only take if a company refuses to recall a product and officials believe there is possible danger to those who consume it.”

As of June 27, 2011, a total of 21 persons with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Enteritidis have been reported from 5 states: Idaho (3), Montana (7), North Dakota (1), New Jersey (1) and Washington (9). Among persons for whom information is available, illnesses began between April 12 and June 7, 2011. Ill persons range in age from 12 years to 77 years old, with a median age of 35 years old. Seventy-one percent are female. Among the 10 ill persons with available information, 3 (30%) persons have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported.

Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is collaborating with public health officials in many states and FDA to investigate the multistate outbreak of Salmonella Enteritidis infections that has been linked to alfalfa sprouts and spicy sprouts from Evergreen Produce. Investigators are using DNA analysis of Salmonella bacteria obtained through diagnostic testing to identify cases of illness that may be part of this outbreak.

epi-curve.jpgThe outbreak can be visually described with a chart showing the number of people who became ill each day, referred to as an epidemic curve or epi curve (pictured left). Illnesses that occurred after June 9, 2011, might not be reported yet due to the time it takes between when a person becomes ill and when the illness is reported. This takes an average of 2 to 3 weeks. For more information, please see Salmonella Outbreak Investigations: Timeline for Reporting Cases.

CDC, FDA, and state and local public health partners are continuing surveillance to identify new cases and trace potentially contaminated products. CDC will continue to update the public on the progress of this investigation as information becomes available.

Outbreak of Campylobacter in Alaska Linked to Raw Milk

rawmilk.jpgThe state of Alaska Section of Epidemiology (SOE) is investigating four recent cases of Campylobacter infection associated with drinking raw milk from an Alaska farm. According to a recent epidemiology bulletin, on June 15, 2011, SOE was notified by the Alaska State Public Health Laboratory of four Campylobacter jejuni isolates with identical pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) patterns. After conducting interviews of the four individuals, health officials discovered that the consumption of unpasteurized, or raw, milk was the only exposure common to all ill persons.

During their investigation SOE learned the following:

All four persons with matching Campylobacter isolates experienced acute gastroenteritis in May and June 2011. Patient ages ranged from 1 – 81 years. All four persons were living in Southcentral Alaska at the time of their illness, and all reported consuming raw milk from the same cow share farm in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley.

Although Alaska state regulations do not permit the sale of raw milk, owning shares of an animal to receive that animal’s milk is permissible. Unlike milk supplied by commercial outlets, there is no testing or pasteurization required of milk before distribution from a cow-share program.

SOE reported that:

With the onset dates for the four confirmed cases scattered over almost a month-long period, it is unlikely that there was a single “bad batch” of milk, but rather multiple batches of contaminated milk. Raw milk outbreaks can be intermittent and protracted, and this outbreak might well be ongoing. Therefore, we strongly encourage health care providers and the general public to report to SOE all cases of acute gastroenteritis following consumption of raw milk. By interviewing ill persons, we are able to better understand the factors associated with this outbreak and thereby provide more specific control measures to prevent future illness from occurring.

In light of the potentially ongoing Campylobacter jejuni outbreak, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services issued a press release today urging anyone who has consumed raw milk and subsequently experienced acute gastrointestinal illness (i.e. diarrhea, vomiting, cramps, fever) since March 2011 to contact the Section of Epidemiology at 907-269-8000.

Dr. Joe McLaughlin, chief of the Alaska SOE, stated, “Raw milk is an ideal substance for the proliferation of bacteria introduced through fecal contamination.” Moreover, he added, “Unpasteurized milk can be infected with a number of pathogens including Listeria, Salmonella, and as we’ve seen in this case, Campylobacter.”

For more information about the risks related to the consumption of unpasteurized milk, visit http://www.realrawmilkfacts.com/

How Do Sprouts Become Contaminated in the First Place?

sprouts2.jpgToday yet another announcement about the dangers of consuming sprouts has been circulating in the news, this time regarding the FDA’s warning to consumers to avoid Evergreen Produce brand sprouts due to Salmonella contamination. It is very timely, then, that CNN has just published an article detailing why sprouts are considered such a high risk food.

Unfortunately, according to a CBC-commissioned study led by Kevin Allen, a microbiology professor at the University of British Columbia, the warm, moist conditions that are conducive to growing bumper crops of sprouts are also an ideal breeding ground for bacteria. In his test of 44 samples of pre-packaged sprouts (as well as 48 of leafy greens and 58 of various 58 herbs), “Over 78% of sprouts had levels of microorganisms too numerous to count. In addition, one sample was contaminated with generic E. coli and nearly all samples had enterococci detected, including E. faecalis and E. faecium.”

The report continues, “Although high levels of microorganisms in sprouts were expected, the extensive detection of enterococci and potential significance are not well documented in scientific literature. Enterococcus spp. are inherently resistant to some antibiotics, and are known for their ability to acquire and subsequently disseminate antibiotic resistance genes to other bacteria. As such, the observed high levels of contamination in sprouts (93%), as well as herbs (79%) and spinach (50%), warrants further investigation, and may present an issue in the dissemination of antimicrobial resistance through foodborne means.”

So how does that bacteria get there in the first place? Attorney and food safety advocate Bill Marler tells Eatocracy that the most likely factors are either from contamination at the seed level as plants grow out in manure-enriched fields and spread contamination across crops, or in the sprouting facilities themselves.

In one case investigated from the end of 2010 through the early months of 2011 after an outbreak that sickened 140 people with Salmonella at Jimmy John’s sandwich shop chain, workers at the Tiny Greens Organic Farm in Urbana, Illinois were found to have tracked compost pile runoff from the front of the facility inside to the production area. This was far from the only hygiene violation at the facility and the FDA issued a warning letter informing the public of the danger.

When salmonella changes your life

Information, Marler asserts, is indeed the public’s best defense against illness. “We’ve got to a point where we need to give consumers far more warning,” he says. “The counterargument to risk is benefit – and that’s where consumers get confused. There’s evidence that broccoli sprouts have anti-cancer qualities. There are other cancer preventatives that don’t require broccoli sprouts. Yes, raw milk contains pro-biotics, but so does yogurt.”

The other E. coli threat? Raw milk

While Marler advocates personal responsibility on the consumer end, saying, “Knowing that some of these foods can cause harm, people must be vigilant about how and where they get them and how they use them,” he also believes that producers must keep the public safe and their facilities hygenic.

“Sprouters need to be held accountable for not using science that they know works, to protect consumers,” he says, referring to chemical sprays that have been used effectively to decontaminate seeds and stop the spread of harmful bacteria.

Evergreen Produce, while not currently producing sprouts, has yet to issue a recall for any of its products.

FDA Issues Rare Warning to Public to Not Eat Evergreen Produce Sprouts

In a rare, but refreshing move, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a warning to consumers to avoid eating Evergreen Produce brand alfalfa sprouts or spicy sprouts because they may be linked to 20 cases of Salmonella poisoning.

Why is the FDA making this announcement?  Because the manufacturer refuses to recall the sprouts.  Mary Clare Jalonick, AP writer, interviewed Nadine Scharf, who identified herself as the co-owner of the company.  According to Ms. Scharf, “the FDA has asked her to recall the sprouts but [] she doesn’t believe the agency has enough evidence to link the illnesses to her products. Most of the sprouts have probably been consumed anyway, she said.”

Let’s be clear here–the FDA is not an agency that points the finger at a manufacturer of a product linked to the Salmonella illnesses of at least 20 people without incredibly strong supporting evidence. 

The agency’s warning to consumers Monday is an unusual step that the agency will generally only take if a company refuses to recall a product and officials believe there is possible danger to those who consume it. Salmonella is an organism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in people with weakened immune systems. It can cause diarrhea, fever and vomiting.

In the warning, the FDA urged consumers not to eat alfalfa or spicy sprouts in plastic bags labeled “Evergreen Produce” or “Evergreen Produce Inc.” The agency said it believes they were distributed in Idaho, Montana and Washington state. Scharf said that their products are distributed to Spokane, Wash., where they are then sent to other places.

This certainly isn’t the first time that sprouts have been implicated in a foodborne illness outbreak.  In fact, there have been literally dozens of such outbreaks.

Raw sprouts are a frequent culprit in foodborne illness because of the moist, warm conditions in which they are grown. At least 47 people have died and 4,000 have been sickened in an outbreak of E. coli in Europe that is believed to be caused by sprouts. FDA officials said the two outbreaks are not related.

There have been at least 30 outbreaks associated with raw or lightly cooked sprouts in the United States in the last 15 years.

Scharf said she thinks the publicity over the European outbreak is causing the agency to be more vigilant.

Ms. Jalonick concludes her article with a very profound, and very wrong, statement from the company’s owner, who said “Recalling the sprouts that are out there would be like saying I am guilty of having bacterially contaminated sprouts, and as of today they haven’t documented the fact that any of our sprouts have bacteria in them.”  I respectfully disagree.  Recalling the sprouts would be acknowledging the overwhelming epidemiological link between your product and the 20 people suffering from a very serious pathogen, and taking responsibility for it.  It would also be sending a message to your consumers that you give a damn about the health of the very people you are making money off of.