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

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National Law Journal Honors William Marler as Litigation Trailblazer and Pioneer

Welcome to the premier issue of Litigation Trailblazers & Pioneers, a special supplement developed by the business arm of The National Law Journal. In the pages that follow, you’ll read 50 profiles of people who have helped make a difference in the fight for justice. While those recognized come at the litigation process from different angles, a common thread ties them together: each has shown a deep passion and perseverance in pursuit of their mission, having achieved remarkable successes along the way.

Historically, an improving economy has a slowing effect on litigation. Today, activity continues to climb despite the markets’ flirtation with record highs. From the Affordable Healthcare Act to a stricter regulatory environment, big data and privacy concerns to IP battles and product liability suits, among other contributors, the courts are busier than ever. All our honorees have a major stake in the ground and they are advocating strongly for their causes.

As with all Trailblazers & Pioneers supplements, the list is never complete. Our goal is to spotlight those making a big difference and the search never ends. If you have someone you feel should make our next list, please reach out and let us know. We hope you enjoy this special section and look forward to hearing from you with your nominations for next year’s list!

See all honorees.

Salmonella and E. coli Found at Los Angeles and Seattle Farmer’s Markets

Researchers in Chapman University’s Food Science Program and their collaborators at University of Washington have just published a study on the presence of Salmonella and E. coli on certain herbs sold at farmers’ markets. The study focused on farmers’ markets in Los Angeles and Orange counties in California, as well as in the Seattle, Washington, area. Specifically tested were samples of the herbs cilantro, basil and parsley. Of the 133 samples tested from 13 farmers’ markets, 24.1 percent tested positive for E. coli and one sample tested positive for Salmonella.

“While farmers’ markets can become certified to ensure that each farmer is actually growing the commodities being sold, food safety is not addressed as part of the certification process,” said Rosalee Hellberg, Ph.D., and co-author on the study. “Certain herbs such as parsley, basil and cilantro have been implicated in many food outbreaks over the past two decades so our study focused specifically on the safety and quality of these three herbs.”

Rosalee Head Shot

Hellberg and her research team visited 49 different vendors at 13 farmers’ markets in Los Angeles and Orange Counties in California, and in the greater Seattle area collecting 133 samples of the three herbs between the period of July and October 2013. Each sample was equivalent to one pound and was tested that same day for both Salmonella and E. coli using methods from the United States Food and Drug Administration Bacteriological Analytical Manual.

A total of 16 samples had average E. coli counts considered to be unsatisfactory according to guidelines established by the Public Health Laboratory Service. When tested for Salmonella, 15 samples had suspicious growth but only one tested positive—a parsley sample from a Los Angeles County farmers’ market.

Orange County farmers’ markets had the highest percentage of samples with E. coli growth followed by farmers’ markets in the greater Seattle area and Los Angeles County.

Salmonella symptoms include diarrhea, abdominal cramps and fever around 12 to 72 hours after consumption that can last four to seven days. Symptoms for pathogenic forms of E. coli include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea that often becomes bloody, and vomiting.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service, farmers’ markets have been increasing since 2009 near urban areas, particularly along the East and West Coasts. In August 2013, there were more than 8,000 farmers’ markets listed in the USDA’s National Farmers’ Market directory.

The study was published in the ­­Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture.

Rosa’s Restaurant Link in Hepatitis A Warning

Late Monday the Hamilton Township Department of Health was informed by the state Department of Health of a confirmed case of Hepatitis A involving a food worker employed at Rosa’s Restaurant and Catering located at 3442 South Broad St, Hamilton Township.

In a press release health officials warned that people who ate at this restaurant or catered from this restaurant from Nov. 10 through Dec. 1 may be at risk for developing Hepatitis A if they have not been previously vaccinated with the Hepatitis A vaccine.

Unvaccinated individuals who ate there should receive an injection of immune globulin or Hepatitis A vaccine if their exposure occurred from Nov. 10 through Dec. 1, according to the health department. These individuals should contact their primary care providers or if uninsured their local health department to receive the immunization. Both immune globulin and Hepatitis A vaccine can prevent infection with the hepatitis A virus if given within 14 days of exposure.

Uninsured Hamilton residents should call the Hamilton Health Department — located at 2100 Greenwood Ave., Hamilton — at (609) 890-3884 for an appointment.

The health department explained that the early signs and symptoms of Hepatitis A appear two to six weeks after exposure and commonly include the following:

Mild fever, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, tiredness, pain in the upper right side of the abdomen under the rib cage, dark urine and jaundice (yellowing of the eyes or skin)

The disease varies in severity, with mild cases lasting two weeks or less and more severe cases lasting four to six weeks or longer, according to the health department. Some individuals, especially children, may not develop jaundice and may have an illness so mild that it can go unnoticed. However, even persons with mild symptoms can be highly infectious. Persons with symptoms suggestive of Hepatitis A should consult a physician even if symptoms are mild.

Persons who ate at Rosa’s Restaurant and Catering from Nov. 10 to Dec. 1 are urged to be particularly thorough with hand washing after toileting and prior to food preparation to avoid any potential for further spread of disease. They should not prepare or handle food for anyone outside of their immediate family, the health department said.

At all times, hand washing should include vigorous washing of hands with soap and running warm water for a minimum of 20 seconds. All surfaces should be washed down including the back of the hands, wrists, between fingers and under the fingernails

Additional information regarding Hepatitis A can be viewed at the following website: http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/ChooseA.htm.

Residents can also contact the Hamilton Township Division of Health at (609) 890-3884. 

If you ate at an unnamed Maine Restaurant you may be at risk for Hepatitis A

Mike Reagan of WMTW reports that the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a health alert about hepatitis A.  However, the Maine CDC will not say what restaurant it is.

The center said that a food service worker at a Cumberland County restaurant tested positive for the virus. Maine CDC did not identify the location but said the person was working with food between Sept. 29 and Oct. 11.

Patrons at the unnamed restaurant may be at risk for infection.

Anyone experiencing fever, jaundice, nausea, clay-colored stool and dark urine are urged to get tested, Maine CDC said.

It is mainly contracted through the fecal-oral route by people who have not washed their hands well after going to the bathroom. Mills said people handling food can transmit the virus to other people, which is why regulations exist for food service workers.

Dr. Sheila Pinette, director of the Maine CDC, refused to comment on Thursday.

Hepatitis A:  Marler Clark, The Food Safety Law Firm, is the nation’s leading law firm representing victims of Hepatitis A outbreaks. The Hepatitis A lawyers of Marler Clark have represented thousands of victims of Hepatitis A and other foodborne illness outbreaks 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 Hepatitis A lawyers have litigated Hepatitis A cases stemming from outbreaks traced to a variety of sources, such as green onions, lettuce and restaurant food.  The law firm has brought Hepatitis A lawsuits against such companies as Subway, McDonald’s, Chipotle, Quiznos and Carl’s Jr.

5 State Salmonella Outbreak Over

A total of six persons infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Braenderup were reported from five states since January 1, 2014.

The number of ill persons identified in each state was as follows: Connecticut (1), Iowa (1), New Mexico (1), Tennessee (1), and Texas (2).

One ill person was hospitalized. No deaths were reported.

Collaborative investigation efforts of state, local, and federal public health and regulatory agencies indicated that almond and peanut butter manufactured by nSpired Natural Foods, Inc. was the likely source of this outbreak.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) isolated the same strain of Salmonella Braenderup from environmental samples collected from an nSpired Natural Foods facility during routine inspections in February and July 2014.

Between July 15 and August 29, 2014, FDA conducted an inspection at nSpired Natural Foods. FDA issued a Form 483 Inspection Report documenting eight observations made during the inspection.

FDA’s investigation is ongoing. On August 19, 2014, nSpired Natural Foods, Inc. voluntarily recalled certain lots of almond and peanut butters because of potential contamination with Salmonella.

The recalled brands included Arrowhead Mills, MaraNatha, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Safeway, and Kroger.

A complete listing of all of the recalled products is available on the FDA website.

Salmonella:  Marler Clark, The Food Safety Law Firm, is the nation’s leading law firm representing victims of Salmonella outbreaks. The Salmonella lawyers of Marler Clark have represented thousands of victims of Salmonella and other foodborne illness outbreaks 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 Salmonella lawyers have litigated Salmonella cases stemming from outbreaks traced to a variety of foods, such as cantaloupe, tomatoes, ground turkey, salami, sprouts, cereal, peanut butter, and food served in restaurants.  The law firm has brought Salmonella lawsuits against such companies as Cargill, ConAgra, Peanut Corporation of America, Sheetz, Taco Bell, Subway and Wal-Mart.

If you or a family member became ill with a Salmonella infection, including Reactive Arthritis or Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), after consuming food and you’re interested in pursuing a legal claim, contact the Marler Clark Salmonella attorneys for a free case evaluation.

Lacteos Santa Martha with Listeria monocytogenes

Oasis Brands, Inc. of Miami, FL is recalling select lots of various Lacteos Santa Martha products with Best by dates of 07/01/14 through 12/31/14, because the products has the potential to be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, an organism which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, 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 and stillbirths among pregnant women.

The recalled products were distributed in Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina from April 1st thought October 14, 2014 to distributors and retail stores. The products can be identified by the batch ID code (best used by date) sticker on the label of the plastic bag of 07/01/14 through 12/31/14.

  • Queso Seco Centroamericano (Dry White Cheese) 1Lb UPC 876593 001874
  • Queso Seco Olanchano (Dry Cheese) 1Lb UPC 635349 000840
  • Queso Seco Hondureno (Dry Cheese) 12oz UPC 876593 001690
  • Quesito Casero (Fresh Curd) 12oz UPC 635349 000406
  • My Queso (Latin Flavor Cheese) 1Lb UPC 635349 000406
  • Queso Cuzcatlan (Salvadorean Flavor Cheese) 1Lb UPC 635349 000406
  • Queso para Freir (Cheese for Frying) 12oz UPC 635349 000758
  • Queso Fresco (Fresh Cheese) 12oz UPC 635349 000703
  • Cuajada en Hoja Queso Casero Hecho a Mano (Fresh Curd) 12oz UPC 635349 000895
  • Crema Centroamericana (Soft Blend Dairy Spread) 1Lb UPC 876593 001898
  • Mantequilla Hondurena (Honduran Style Cream) 1Lb UPC 635349 000772
  • Crema Nica (Grade A Cultured Cream) 1Lb UPC 635349 000468
  • HonduCrema Olanchana (Olanchana Style Soft Blend Dairy Spread) 1Lb UPC 635349 000598
  • Crema Guatemalteca (Guatemalan Style Cream) 1Lb UPC 635349 000819
  • Crema GuateLinda (Guatemalan Style Cream) 1Lb UPC 635349 000390
  • Crema Cuzcatlan (Salvadorean Style Cream) 1Lb UPC 635349 000444

The recall is the result of routine sampling by The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Food Inspectors and subsequent FDA environmental samples that revealed the presence of Listeria monocytogenes. The company ceased production and distribution of the product as FDA and the company continue their investigation as to what caused the problem.

California Shellfish Warning

The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) is warning consumers not to eat certain types of seafood from the Ventura county coastline due to dangerous levels of a naturally occurring toxin that can cause illness or death.

Consumers are advised not to eat:

• recreationally harvested bivalve shellfish (such as mussels, clams or whole scallops), or

• the internal organs of lobster or rock crab

Dangerous levels of domoic acid have been detected in the internal organs of lobster (also called lobster tomalley) from this region. This toxin, also known as Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning (ASP), can cause illness or death in humans. No cases of human poisoning from domoic acid are known to have occurred in California. Rock crab are also capable of accumulating this toxin in the internal organs (also called crab butter). 

This warning does not apply to commercially sold clams, mussels, scallops or oysters from approved sources. State law permits only state-certified commercial shellfish harvesters or dealers to sell these products. Shellfish sold by certified harvesters and dealers are subject to frequent mandatory testing to monitor for toxins. 

Symptoms of domoic acid poisoning can occur within 30 minutes to 24 hours after eating toxic seafood. In mild cases, symptoms may include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, headache and dizziness. These symptoms disappear within several days. In severe cases, the victim may experience trouble breathing, confusion, disorientation, cardiovascular instability, seizures, excessive bronchial secretions, permanent loss of short term memory, coma or death. 

The annual quarantine on recreationally harvested mussels remains in effect along the entire California coastline. This quarantine applies to all species of mussels harvested along the California coast, including all bays and estuaries.


Come on Whataburger – Vaccinate your Employees for Hepatitis A

Health officials are once again alerting the public about possible hepatitis A exposure – this time at that Austin Texas Whataburger in Central Austin. A restaurant employee there at the 2800 Guadalupe St. location has been diagnosed with the hepatitis A virus.  The same officials urge patrons to seek medical advice and treatment.

Hardly a month passes without a warning from a health department somewhere that an infected food handler is the source of yet another potential hepatitis A outbreak. Absent vaccinations of food handlers, combined with an effective and rigorous hand-washing policy, there will continue to be more hepatitis A outbreaks. It is time for health departments across the country to require vaccinations of food-service workers, especially those who serve the very young and the elderly.

Hepatitis A is a communicable disease that spreads from person-to-person. It is spread almost exclusively through fecal-oral contact, generally from person-to-person, or via contaminated food or water. Hepatitis A is the only foodborne illness that is vaccine-preventable. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), since the inception of the vaccine, rates of infection have declined 92 percent.

CDC estimate that 83,000 cases of hepatitis A occur in the United States every year, and that many of these cases are related to food-borne transmission. In 1999, more than 10,000 people were hospitalized due to hepatitis A infections, and 83 people died. In 2003, 650 people became sickened, four died, and nearly 10,000 people got IG (immunoglobulin) shots after eating at a Pennsylvania restaurant. Not only do customers get sick, but also businesses lose customers or some simply go out of business.

Although CDC has not yet called for mandatory vaccination of food-service workers, it has repeatedly pointed out that the consumption of worker-contaminated food is a major cause of foodborne illness in the U.S.

Hepatitis A continues to be one of the most frequently reported, vaccine-preventable diseases in the U.S., despite FDA approval of hepatitis A vaccine in 1995. Widespread vaccination of appropriate susceptible populations would substantially lower disease incidence and potentially eliminate indigenous transmission of hepatitis A infections. Vaccinations cost about $50. The major economic reason that these preventive shots have not been used is because of the high turnover rate of food-service employees. Eating out becomes a whole lot less of a gamble if all food-service workers faced the same requirement.

According to CDC, the costs associated with hepatitis A are substantial. Between 11 percent and 22 percent of persons who have hepatitis A are hospitalized. Adults who become ill lose an average of 27 days of work. Health departments incur substantial costs in providing post-exposure prophylaxis to an average of 11 contacts per case. Average costs (direct and indirect) of hepatitis A range from $1,817 to $2,459 per case for adults and from $433 to $1,492 per case for children younger than 18. In 1989, the estimated annual direct and indirect costs of hepatitis A in the U.S. were more than $200 million, equivalent to more than $300 million in 1997 dollars.  A new CDC report shows that, in 2010, slightly more than 10 percent of people between the ages of 19 and 49 got a hepatitis A shot.

Vaccinating an employee make sense.  It is moral to protect customers from an illness that can cause serious illness and death. Vaccines also protect the business from the multi-million-dollar fallout that can come if people become ill or if thousands are forced to stand in line to be vaccinated to prevent a more serious problem.

What is it with Peanut Butter and Salmonella?

In 2009 President Obama was quoted:

“At a bare minimum, we should be able to count on our government keeping our kids safe when they eat peanut butter,” the president said.

“That’s what Sasha eats for lunch,” Obama said, referring to his 7-year-old daughter. “Probably three times a week. I don’t want to worry about whether she’s going to get sick as a consequence of eating her lunch.”

The FDA announced on Tuesday that nSpired Natural Foods, Inc. was voluntarily recalling certain retail lots of Arrowhead Mills® Peanut Butters, MaraNatha® Almond Butters and Peanut Butters and specific private label nut butters packaged in glass and plastic jars sold at Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and other retailers, because they have the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella.  The potential risk was brought to the Company’s attention by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration following routine testing. The Company has received reports of four illnesses that may be associated with these specific products.

So, what is it with Peanut Butter and Salmonella?  Here is a bit of history:

ConAgra Peter Pan & Great Value Peanut Butter Salmonella Outbreak – Nationwide (2006-2007) – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that there had been 715 confirmed cases of Salmonella infection in 41 states from August 2006 through May 2007. Although the outbreak slowed, cases continued to be confirmed after this time period. The cases were linked to the consumption of Peter Pan and Great Value brand peanut butter manufactured in ConAgra’s Georgia peanut butter plant. Any Peter Pan or Great Value brand peanut butter beginning with product code 2111 was recalled in response to the outbreak investigation.

Peanut Corporation of America Peanut Butter Salmonella Outbreak – Nationwide (2008-2009) – At least 714 people in 46 states were confirmed ill with Salmonella Typhimurium infection after consuming peanut and peanut butter products produced by Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) in 2008 and 2009.  Nine people died.  The Minnesota health department first listed a product advisory on January 9, 2009, when the presence of Salmonella was detected in King Nut peanut butter.  The outbreak strain of Salmonella was then traced to the Peanut Corporation of America’s Blakely, GA processing facility.  Recalls began with commercially distributed peanut butter, but the list of recalled products quickly grew to include over 3600 products made with peanut butter and peanut paste produced by PCA in the Blakely, GA and Plainview, TX facilities since January 1, 2007. PCA declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy in February of 2009.  PCA principals are presently on trial in Georgia for felonies stemming from this outbreak.

Sunland and Trader Joe’s Peanut Butter Salmonella Outbreak – Multistate (2012) – In September, October and November of 2012, public health officials from at least 20 states, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced that a Salmonella serotype Bredeney outbreak had been traced to the consumption of products made by Sunland, Inc. of New Mexico.  Forty-two people were sickened.  Trader Joe’s Valencia Creamy Salted Peanut Butter made with Sea Salt was the initial product suspected to be the source of the Salmonella outbreak, but further investigation led to the identification of additional nut butter products as potential sources of Salmonella infections.  Sunland issued a recall of peanut butter and nut butter products shortly after the Salmonella outbreak announcement.  Sunland eventually filed for bankruptcy protection.

Makes you think twice when you grab for that jar to make your kid’s peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Sysco Fined $20M for Food Safety Violations

Vicky Nguyen of NBC San Francisco reports that Sysco Corporation, the world’s largest food distributor, has agreed to pay $19.4 million in penalties and restitution after an NBC Bay Area investigation uncovered the company’s secret food sheds regulators called illegal and unsafe.

Inspectors from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) launched their investigation into Sysco Corporation last July, after whistleblowers came forward to NBC Bay Area to expose the company’s longstanding practice of storing meat, produce, dairy, and other fresh food in dirty, unrefrigerated, outdoor storage units.  CDPH inspectors combed though company records from July 2009 to August 2013 and found:

  • 25 unregistered drop sites across Sysco’s 7 distribution centers spanning from – Sacramento to San Diego
  • 23,287 cumulative days food was illegally stored
  • 156,740 food items stored in drop sites without temperature controls
  • 405,859 food items stored in illegal drop sites

Last summer, NBC Bay Area witnessed this potentially hazardous process first hand, as the Investigative Unit’s surveillance cameras captured raw food being transported from Sysco’s Fremont distribution center to unrefrigerated storage lockers in Concord and San Jose where it was placed on the floor next to insects and rattraps. The food sat for hours in temperatures as high as 80 degrees before it was picked up by sales associates and delivered to restaurants and hotels.

In a written statement, the Santa Clara District Attorney’s office wrote: “The July 2013 NBC report triggered a state-wide investigation by the California Department of Public Health and, ultimately, an enforcement proceeding brought by the California Food Drug and Medical Device Task.”

Following their investigation (pdf) Santa Cruz and Santa Clara counties ultimately filed suit.

As part of the settlement, Sysco agreed to pay more than $4 million in restitution, including a $1 million food contribution to food banks throughout California and $3.3 million to fund a 5 year state-wide-program aimed at helping health inspectors enforce food transportation laws.