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

E. coli and Spinach and Lettuce too Frequent

From the Jack-in-the-Box E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in 1993 to the ConAgra outbreak in 2002, most of the E. coli illnesses cases Marler Clark has been involved in have been hamburger related.  The beef industry has responded and E. coli beef cases are becoming rarer.  However, I can not say the same for the leafy green industry.

We have seen 20 sickened by E. coli-tainted spinach from Wegman’s in New York in the past weeks.

E. coli outbreaks associated with lettuce or spinach, specifically the “pre-washed” and “ready-to-eat” varieties, are by no means a new phenomenon.  In fact, the frequency with which this country’s fresh produce consuming public has been hit by outbreaks of pathogenic bacteria is astonishing.  By way of illustration, in October 2003, thirteen (13) residents of a California retirement home were sickened, and two (2) people died, after eating E. coli-contaminated, pre-washed spinach; in September 2003, nearly forty (40) patrons of a California restaurant chain fell ill after eating salads prepared with bagged, pre-washed lettuce; and in July 2002, over fifty (50) young women fell ill with E. coli O157:H7 at a dance camp after eating “pre-washed” lettuce, leaving several hospitalized and one (1) with life-long kidney damage.  And this is just a small sampling of the twenty (20) or more E. coli outbreaks since 1995 in which spinach or lettuce was the source.  Several more, including the September 2005 Dole lettuce outbreak, and the infamous September 2006 Dole baby spinach outbreak, appear in the chart below, which is based on information gathered by the Center for Science in the Public Interest:

Date

Vehicle

Etiology

Confirmed
Cases

States/Provinces

Aug. 1993 Salad Bar E. coli O157:H7

53

WA

July 1995 Lettuce (leafy green; red; romaine) E. coli O157:H7

70

MT

Sept. 1995 Lettuce (romaine) E. coli O157:H7

20

ID

Sept. 1995 Lettuce (iceberg) E. coli O157:H7

30

ME

Oct. 1995 Lettuce (iceberg; unconfirmed) E. coli O157:H7

11

OH

May-June 1996 Lettuce (mesclun; red leaf) E. coli O157:H7

61

CT, IL, NY

May 1998 Salad E. coli O157:H7

2

CA

Feb.-Mar. 1999 Lettuce (iceberg) E. coli O157:H7

72

NE

July-Aug. 2002 Lettuce (romaine) E. coli O157:H7

29

WA, ID

Oct. 2003-May 2004 Lettuce (mixed salad) E. coli O157:H7

57

CA

Apr. 2004 Spinach E. coli O157:H7

16

CA

Sept. 2005 Lettuce (romaine) E. coli O157:H7

32

MN, WI, OR

Sept. 2006 Spinach (baby) E. coli O157:H7 and other serotypes

204

Nationwide

Nov/Dec 2006 Lettuce E. coli O157:H7

71

NY, NJ, PA, DE

Nov/Dec 2006 Lettuce E. coli O157:H7

81

IA, MN, WI

May 2008 Romaine E. coli O157:H7

9

WA

April 2010 Romaine E. coli O145

33

MI, NY, OH, PA, TN

March 2011 Romaine E. coli O157:H7

55

AZ, AR, IL, IN, KS, KT, MN, MO, NE