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Foodborne Illness Outbreaks

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First Lawsuit Filed in July E. coli O157 Outbreak on Lake Superior Chippewa Reservation

Investigation by the MN Dept. of Health finds food served by Jim-N-Jo’s Northland Katering responsible for sickening dozens.

Marler Clark, a Seattle-based law firm specializing in food safety, has filed suit against House of Prime on behalf of Robert Danielson, a resident of Cloquet in Carlton County. Danielson became ill with E. coli O157 after consuming food prepared by Jim-N-Jo’s Northland Katering, which is wholly owned and operated by House of Prime. Local co-counsel on the suit is Jardine, Logan, & O’Brien of Lake Elmo, MN.

Danielson is just one of as many as 60 people who became ill with E. coli O157 after consuming food served at an Elder’s Picnic hosted by the Chippewa Indian Tribe on July 11, 2014.  All the food served at the event was prepared by Jim-N-Jo’s Northland Katering, which is headquartered in Cloquet.

Several days after the Elders Picnic, Danielson fell ill with nausea, fatigue, and a general feeling of malaise. His symptoms worsened that night and over the course of the next day to include severe and bloody diarrhea. Eventually he sought emergency medical treatment at the Cloquet Community Hospital where he was rehydrated and given medications to ease his discomfort. While Danielson was receiving treatment about a dozen other attendees of the Elders Picnic were in that same emergency room.

Danielson—and others who attended the Elders Picnic—tested positive for E. coli O157, which, in the most severe cases, can result in Hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS), a potentially life threatening disorder.

This launched an investigation by local health officials and the Minnesota Department of Health. Marler Clark and their team of epidemiologists trained to trace back the causes of food borne outbreaks, was retained to help with the investigation.

Eventually the cause of the outbreak was linked to the Elder’s Picnic and the food from Jim-N-Jo’s Northland Katering. The most likely cause was found to be the potato salad or one of the raw ingredients that goes into it.

“Catered food is often the first place to look after an outbreak that can be tied to any event. Like restaurants, caterers are supposed to follow basic food safety standards, but sometimes these businesses are a bit more relaxed than they should be, which can result in cross contamination, not cooking or keeping foods at their appropriate temperatures, or other issues that can easily turn a good event into a nightmare for attendees,” said Bill Marler, founding partner of Marler Clark.

Marler has been on the front lines of food safety for more than two decades. Some of his first related clients stemmed from the outbreak E. coli O157: H7 traced back to the fast food chain Jack in the Box in the early 1990s.  More recently, he represented Minnesota-native Stephanie Smith whose dreams of being a dancer were shattered after she ate a hamburger tainted with E. coli O157: H7.

Since being discharged from the hospital, Danielson’s health has steadily improved, but he still continues to recover from his illness.

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.

At Least 18 E. coli O111 Cases in 4 States Likely Linked to Cabbage

Minnesota State health officials have identified green whole head cabbage as the likely source of an E. coli O111 outbreak that sickened 15 people in Minnesota in July.

The cabbage was likely contaminated at some point prior to distribution to restaurants.

Routine monitoring by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) identified the 15 cases of illness associated with Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O111. Bacterial isolates from all of the cases had the same DNA fingerprint. This genetic strain of E. coli O111 had not been seen in the United States previously.

MDH investigators were able to interview 14 of the cases: 13 of them ate at 9 different Applebee’s restaurants in Minnesota, and one ate at Yard House.

Many cases had reported eating the Oriental Chicken Salad at Applebee’s, leading Applebee’s to voluntarily and out of an abundance of caution pull the menu item and specific ingredients from the salad from their menu for a time. It was returned to the menu after Applebee’s obtained different sources for the ingredients.

The common food item across all foods consumed by cases was green whole head cabbage.

Minnesota officials traced the cabbage to a common supplier outside of Minnesota and continue to work with the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to investigate its source. The FDA examination of the potentially involved farms is still ongoing.

Single cases of illness that match the outbreak strain have occurred in three other states.

The illnesses occurred between June 25 and July 3. Four of the people who became ill were hospitalized and all have recovered. No new cases connected with this outbreak have been identified in Minnesota since July 10.

Symptoms of illness caused by E. coli O111 typically include stomach cramps and diarrhea, often with bloody stools, but only a low-grade or no fever. People usually become ill two to five days after exposure, but this time period can range from one to at least eight days. Most people recover in five to 10 days. Complications from infection are more common among those with weaker immune systems, including young children and the elderly. As with E. coli O157:H7, infection with E. coli O111 should not be treated with antibiotics, as this practice might promote further complications.

Cilantro is cause of Texas Cyclospora Outbreak

The Cyclospora illness outbreak being investigated by DSHS and local health departments in Texas along with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Food and Drug Administration appears to have ended. The number of new illnesses being reported has returned to background levels, and the investigation has linked the cases in four restaurant clusters to cilantro imported from Puebla, Mexico.

Cyclosporiasis is an intestinal illness caused by consuming food or water contaminated with the Cyclospora parasite. The major symptom is watery diarrhea lasting a few days to a few months. Additional symptoms may include loss of appetite, fatigue, weight loss, abdominal cramps, bloating, increased gas, nausea, vomiting and a low fever. Symptoms may come and go multiple times over a period of weeks.

126 cases are considered part of the outbreak with an onset of illness after May 1 and no history of international travel within the two weeks before onset. Most cases occurred in June and July. However, it is unknown whether all illnesses are linked to cilantro. 166 total cyclosporiasis cases have been reported in Texas in 2014. Most of the cases are in residents of North Texas.

DSHS, in conjunction with local health departments, investigated four restaurant clusters in North Texas that included a total of 21 people who got ill. All 21 reported eating a food item from the restaurant containing cilantro within two weeks before becoming ill. A preliminary traceback investigation conducted by FDA and DSHS has identified Puebla, Mexico as the source of the cilantro that was served in all four restaurants. While the investigation has not found samples of cilantro contaminated with cyclospora, there is enough evidence to establish a strong epidemiological link between the illnesses and the cilantro. The state of Puebla was also identified as the source of fresh cilantro linked to a cyclosporiasis outbreak in 2013.

Whole Genome Sequencing Prompts Nut Butter Salmonella Recall

The CDC reports as of August 20, 2014, a total of four persons infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Braenderup have been reported from four states since January 1, 2014.

The number of ill persons identified in each state is as follows: Connecticut (1), Iowa (1), Tennessee (1), and Texas (1).  One ill person has been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported.

Collaborative investigation efforts of state, local, and federal public health and regulatory agencies indicate that almond and peanut butter manufactured by nSpired Natural Foods, Inc. is 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 January and July 2014.

Public health investigators are using the PulseNet system to identify cases of illness that may be part of this outbreak. PulseNet, the national subtyping network of public health and food regulatory agency laboratories coordinated by CDC, receives DNA “fingerprints” of Salmonella bacteria obtained through diagnostic testing using pulsed-field gel electrophoresis, or PFGE. Whole genome sequencing, a highly discriminatory subtyping method, was also used to define the outbreak strain. Whole genome sequencing helped clarify which illnesses were related to the outbreak.

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 include 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.

South Weymouth and Newton Massachusetts Whole Foods Recalls Hamburger After At Least Three Sick with E. coli O157:H7

Second Outbreak and Recall Since 2008.

Whole Foods Market is recalling 368 pounds of ground beef products from two of its Massachusetts stores because of potential E. coli O157:H7 contamination, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced Friday morning at 2:00AM.

Subject to this recall are 73 lbs. of ground beef products produced June 21 at the company’s South Weymouth, Massachusetts store and 295 lbs. produced June 8 and 10 at the store in Newton, Massachusetts. The list of products can be found here.  The recalled products were wrapped in brown butcher paper or were in plastic-wrapped trays with Whole Foods meat department scale labels on them.

The recall was announced after three cases of E. coli O157:H7 infection were confirmed in Massachusetts in June, although FSIS stated that additional laboratory tests were not done until this week.

In August 2008, Whole Foods announced a voluntary ground beef recall involving potential E. coli O157:H7 contamination in products supplied by Coleman Natural Beef and processed by Nebraska Beef. Whole Foods then pulled products sold over an approximately two-month period in 2008 from its stores in 27 states and the District of Columbia.

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.

Remembering an FDA Scientist Who Made a Difference – Dr. Erick Snellman

By Michael R. Taylor and Samir Assar

One year ago this week, our FDA team was touring farms, food processing and packing companies, and irrigation systems in the Pacific Northwest to hear the concerns that growers and others have about certain standards in the Produce Safety rule that FDA proposed in January 2013.

The proposals of particular concern were those related to the irrigation water that makes it possible for farmers to maintain acres of lush farmland in a mountainous desert.

With us during that trip—as we walked through fields, shared meals with farmers and engaged in frank conversations—was Dr. Erick Snellman, a microbiologist and expert in the safety of agricultural water and microbial contamination of produce.

No one was more engaged than Erick in working with these growers on the best way to keep the irrigation water safe for use on crops that feed families in the United States, and all over the world. This was not just a job to him. He was passionate about using his knowledge to safeguard public health, to give families like his confidence in the safety of the foods they eat.

This week our colleagues gathered again, this time in suburban Maryland, to join Erick’s family and friends in honoring his life. On Saturday, Aug. 9, Erick died of cancer after a courageous battle over the last several months.

Erick wanted to make a difference, to do the right thing, and he did. FDA would not be able to meet its public health mandate without Erick and others who have made this mission their life’s work.

Michael R. Taylor is FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine

Samir Assar, Ph.D., is the Director of FDA’s Produce Safety Staff

Massachusetts Whole Foods Recalls Hamburger after at Least Three E. coli Illnesses

Whole Foods Market locations, South Weymouth, Mass. and Newton, Mass., are recalling 368 pounds of ground beef products that may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced today.

125 lbs. of the following ground beef products produced on June 8, 2014 at the Newton, Mass. location are subject to recall:

  • “BEEF GROUND SIRLOIN 93% LEAN 7% FAT” with SKU 90013
  • “BEEF GROUND SIRLOIN 93% LEAN 7% FAT FAMILY PACK” with SKU 90247
  • “BEEF SIRLOIN Patty  93% LEAN / 7% Fat” with SKU 90088
  • “BEEF GROUND 93% LEAN / 7% FAT” with SKU 90035
  • “BEEF GROUND SIRLOIN 93% LEAN 7% FAT patty FAMILY PACK” with SKU 52179
  • “BEEF GROUND 85% LEAN 15% FAT” with SKU 90004
  • “BEEF GROUND 85% LEAN 15% FAT FAMILY PACK” with SKU 90037
  • “BEEF GROUND PATTY 90% LEAN GRASS FED” with SKU 96363
  • “BEEF GROUND PATTY 90% LEAN GRASS FED, Value Pack” with SKU 52162
  • “BEEF GROUND 90% LEAN GRASS FED” with SKU 95997
  • “BEEF GROUND 90% LEAN GRASS FED, Value pack” with SKU 52190
  • “BEEF GROUND 85 15 GRASS FED” with SKU 95195
  • “BEEF GROUND 85 15 PATTIES GRASS FED” with SKU 95196
  • “BEEF BURGER GRASS FED GOURMET FEATURED” with SKU 52871

170 lbs. of the following ground beef products produced on June 10, 2014 at the Newton, Mass. location are subject to recall:

  • “BEEF GROUND SIRLOIN 93% LEAN 7% FAT” with SKU 90013
  • “BEEF GROUND SIRLOIN 93% LEAN 7% FAT FAMILY PACK” with SKU 90247
  • “BEEF SIRLOIN Patty  93% LEAN / 7% Fat” with SKU 90088
  • “BEEF GROUND 93% LEAN / 7% FAT” with SKU 90035
  • “BEEF GROUND SIRLOIN 93% LEAN 7% FAT patty FAMILY PACK” with SKU 52179
  • “BEEF GROUND SIRLOIN 93/7 PATTIES NE” with SKU 90199
  • “BEEF GROUNDSIRLOIN 93/7 NE” with SKU 95051
  • “BEEF GROUND 85% LEAN 15% FAT” with SKU 90004
  • “BEEF GROUND 85% LEAN 15% FAT FAMILY PACK” with SKU 90037
  • “BEEF GROUND PATTY 90% LEAN GRASS FED” with SKU 96363
  • “BEEF GROUND PATTY 90% LEAN GRASS FED, Value Pack” with SKU 52162
  • “BEEF GROUND 90% LEAN GRASS FED” with SKU 95997
  • “BEEF GROUND 90% LEAN GRASS FED, Value pack” with SKU 52190
  • “BEEF GROUND 85 15 GRASS FED” with SKU 95195
  • “BEEF GROUND 85 15 PATTIES GRASS FED” with SKU 95196
  • “BEEF BURGER GRASS FED GOURMET FEATURED” with SKU 52871

73 lbs. of the following ground beef products produced on June 21, 2014 at the South Weymouth, Mass. location are subject to recall:

  • “BEEF GROUND PATTY 90% LEAN GRASS FED” with SKU 96363
  • “BEEF GROUND PATTY 90% LEAN GRASS FED, Value Pack” with SKU 52162
  • “BEEF GROUND 90% LEAN GRASS FED” with SKU 95997
  • “BEEF GROUND 90% LEAN GRASS FED, Value pack” with SKU 52190
  • “BEEF GROUND 85 15 GRASS FED” with SKU 95195
  • “BEEF GROUND 85 15 PATTIES GRASS FED” with SKU 95196
  • “BEEF BURGER GRASS FED GOURMET FEATURED” with SKU 52871
  • “BEEF GROUND SIRLOIN 93% Lean 7% fat”  with SKU 90013
  • “BEEF GROUND SIRLOIN 93% LEAN 7% FAT FAMILY PACK” with SKU 90247
  • “BEEF SIRLOIN Patty 93% LEAN / 7% Fat” with SKU 90088
  • “BEEF GROUND 93% LEAN / 7% FAT” with SKU 90035
  • “BEEF GROUND SIRLOIN 93% LEAN 7% FAT patty  FAMILY PACK” with SKU 52179
  • “BEEF GROUND SIRLOIN 93/7 PATTIES NE” with SKU 90199
  • “BEEF GROUND SIRLOIN 93/7 NE” with SKU 95051

FSIS was notified of an investigation of E. coli O157:H7 illnesses on June 25, 2014. Working in conjunction with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), FSIS determined that there is a link between ground beef purchased at Whole Foods Market and this illness cluster. Based on epidemiologic investigation, 3 case-patients have been identified in Massachusetts with illness onset dates ranging from June 13, 2014 to June 25, 2014. While the onset of illnesses was in June, on August 13, 2014, additional laboratory results provided linkages between the 3 MA case-patients and ground beef purchased from Whole Foods. Traceback investigation indicated that all 3 case-patients consumed ground beef purchased from 2 Whole Foods Market prior to illness onset. FSIS is continuing to work with state and federal public health partners on this investigation to determine a common source and will provide updated information as it becomes available.

Salmonella Chia Toll: 31 in U.S. and 63 in Canada

Today the CDC reported an increase to a total of 31 persons infected with the outbreak strains of Salmonella Newport (20 persons), Salmonella Hartford (7 persons), or Salmonella Oranienburg (4 persons) were reported from 16 states.  Five ill persons were hospitalized. No deaths were reported.

Collaborative investigation efforts of state, local, and federal public health and regulatory agencies indicated that organic sprouted chia powder was the likely source of this outbreak.  As a result of this investigation, several recalls of products containing organic sprouted chia powder and chia seeds were issued.

In Canada, four strains of Salmonella were associated with this outbreak: Salmonella Newport, Salmonella Hartford, Salmonella Oranienburg, and Salmonella Saintpaul. In total, 63 cases were reported in British Columbia (14), Alberta (10), Ontario (35) and Quebec (4). Twelve cases were hospitalized; nine cases were discharged and have recovered or are recovering. No deaths were reported.

As a part of this investigation, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency issued food recall warnings for various products containing chia seeds and sprouted chia seed powder under the brands Organic Traditions, Back 2 the Garden, Intuitive Path SuperFoods, Harmonic Arts Botanical Dispensary, Naturally Organic, Pete’s Gluten Free, NoorishSuperfoods, MadeGood, and Dietary Express. These products were recalled and removed from the marketplace due to possible Salmonella contamination.

VR Green Farms’ Jarred Sauces Linked to Botulism Sicknesses

Brie Zeitner of the Plain Dealer reports that two people in Ohio have been hospitalized with botulism that public health officials suspect is connected to a nationwide recall of VR Green Farms’ jarred sauces.

The two Ohio patients, both Cincinnati residents in their 20′s, were each on ventilators at one point but are improving, according to the Cincinnati Health Department. One patient is still on a ventilator and was transferred last week to an acute long-term care facility, Dr. Steven Englender, director of the department’s Center for Public Health Preparedness said in an email. The other patient is breathing unassisted and “may have been discharged by now,” he said.

Preliminary testing by the Cincinnati Health Department found evidence of Clostridium botulinum type B in a meal of pasta that contained the recalled pesto sauce. The lab is still awaiting confirmation of those results.

VR Green Farms of San Clemente, CA, is voluntarily recalling a variety of its jarred food products because they may have been improperly produced, therefore making them susceptible to contamination by Clostridium botulinum.

The recalled products include Pine Nut Basil Pesto, Pickled Farm Mix, Old World Tomato Sauce, Sundried Tomatoes in Olive Oil, Tuscan Grilling Sauce and Pasta Sauce. Photographs of these products can be found here. The products were sold at the VR Green Farms stand in San Clemente, CA, and via the Internet to consumers throughout the United States.

Marler Clark Retained to Investigate E. coli O157 Outbreak on Minnesota Chippewa Reservation

22 sickened so far; Source of illnesses likely Elders Picnic on July 17

 Marler Clark, a Seattle-based law firm specializing in food safety, has been retained to investigate the source of an E. coli O157 outbreak on the Fond du Lac Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa Reservation near Duluth, MN. Robert Danielson, a resident of Cloquet in Carlton County, reached out to Marler Clark after becoming one of now 22 people sickened in the outbreak.

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) announced earlier this week that it was investigating the illnesses as well —which reportedly first began on July 17. With several recent community events on the reservation—powwows, picnics, potlucks, and outdoor meetings—it has been difficult to nail down the source.

Working with MDH, Marler Clark’s own investigative team, which includes epidemiologists who are well-trained in finding the causes of foodborne outbreaks, is now in the process of confirming the source: the Elders Picnic held on July 11 at the gymnasium of the Fond du Lac Ojibwe School.  Within days of the picnic, multiple tribal members, including Danielson, fell ill.  Danielson’s illness eventually required emergency medical attention.

Often, finding the source of a foodborne illness outbreak can be challenging even when a common event or location can be isolated. In this case, there were several events that fell within the window of infection that those who became ill attended. Add to this, like most close-knit communities, all of these events involved food either made by a caterer or brought in potluck-style.

“Weddings, picnics, potlucks, parties—they’re all notorious breeding grounds for foodborne illness,” said Bill Marler, Marler Clark founding partner. “It doesn’t matter if the food is catered or made in the host’s kitchen—both have an equal chance of making guests sick. ‘Home-cooked’ might sound delicious, but if basic food safety rules, like cooking to the appropriate temperature or avoiding cross contamination, aren’t followed, it’s a recipe for disaster.”

Marler has been on the front lines of food safety for more than two decades. Some of his first related clients stemmed from the outbreak E. coli O157: H7 traced back to the fast food chain Jack in the Box in the early 1990s.  More recently, he represented Minnesota-native Stephanie Smith whose dreams of being a dancer were shattered after she ate a hamburger tainted with O157: H7.

Fond du Lac health officials have urged reservation residents who brought home food from an event in the last several weeks to throw these leftovers away.

Anyone who becomes ill with E. coli O157 should contact the Department of Health. Symptoms of E. coli O157 can include stomach cramps, bloody diarrhea, and fever. More severe cases—usually found in children and the elderly—can cause Hemolytic-uremic syndrome, a potentially life threatening disorder.

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.