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

“Ready to Cook” Frozen Meals with E. coli can be very, very Dangerous

The CDC is reporting a total of 27 persons infected with the outbreak strain of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli O121 (STEC O121) from 15 states.  81% of ill persons are 21 years of age or younger and 35% of ill persons have been hospitalized. Two ill people developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a type of kidney failure, and no deaths have been reported.  Farm Rich brand frozen food products is one likely source of infection for the ill persons in this outbreak.

These “Ready to Cook” meals have caused a number of both Salmonella and E. coli Outbreaks in the recent past.

Nestle Toll House Cookie Dough E. coli Outbreak: Public health officials from several states and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began investigating an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak with a common source in March of 2009. By June 18, the CDC had reported 69 E. coli cases in 29 states with a common source, and on June 19, 2009 Nestle recalled its Nestle Toll House prepackaged refrigerated cookie and brownie dough products for possible E. coli O157:H7 contamination.

The FDA advised consumers to throw away any prepackaged, refrigerated Nestle Toll House cookie dough products. Cooking the dough was not recommended to eliminate risk of contamination, since the E. coli bacteria could be transferred from the dough to hands and other cooking surfaces.

Nestle USA initiated a voluntary recall of many uncooked cookie dough products on June 19, 2009. The Nestle press release contained a list of recalled products, with production codes. The company also closed half of its Danville, Virginia, plant – the half of the plant that makes Nestle Toll House refrigerated cookie dough. According to a company spokeswoman, the Danville plant was responsible for the majority of Nestle Toll House refrigerated cookie dough production.

On June 22, the Marler Clark law firm filed the first E. coli lawsuit against Nestle USA in connection with the Nestle Toll House refrigerated cookie dough E. coli outbreak on behalf of a young California woman. The next day, the E. coli lawyers filed a second lawsuit against Nestle USA on behalf of a Colorado child who became ill with an E. coli infection and hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a serious complication of E. coli infection that can lead to kidney failure, after eating Nestle Toll House cookie dough in April. The firm filed a third cookie dough E. coli lawsuit against Nestle USA on behalf of a Washington victim on June 24. The law firm has resolved over a dozen claims on behalf of victims, including several HUS cases.

Later, on January 13, 2010, Nestle USA announced that two samples of its Toll House refrigerated cookie dough made at a Virginia factory tested positive for E. coli bacteria despite rigorous safety measures put in place after a recall of the product. They also announced that no dough had left the factory so there was no need for a recall.

In the end, Marler Clark represented 24 individuals who became ill with E. coli infections during the Nestle Toll House cookie dough E. coli outbreak. Their claims were successfully resolved.

Banquet Pot Pie Salmonella Outbreak:  Marler Clark filed six Salmonella lawsuits against ConAgra, the company whose Banquet and store-brand chicken and turkey pot pies were identified as the source of a nationwide Salmonella outbreak in 2007. The serotype of the outbreak was determined to be I 4,5,12:i:-*.

Public health officials from several states collaborated to determine the source of the outbreak, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officially announced that a Salmonella outbreak had been traced to the consumption of ConAgra pot pies on October 9th. At the time, ConAgra did not initiate a recall.

The CDC issued an investigation update regarding the Salmonella outbreak on October 10, 2007. In that update, the CDC announced that at least 152 people had been confirmed as suffering from Salmonella infections that had been linked epidemiologically and through laboratory testing to the consumption of contaminated pot pies between January 1, 2007 and October 9, 2007. At the time of the update, the CDC was aware of 20 people who had been hospitalized due to their Salmonella infections.

On October 11, 2007 – the same day Marler Clark filed its first lawsuit against the company – ConAgra asked stores selling Banquet and other pot pies produced by ConAgra to pull those products from their shelves. The law firm has since resolved all cases.

The final report issued by CDC on the outbreak determined that 401 people in 41 states had fallen ill with salmonellosis, the illness caused by Salmonella infection.

Marie Callender’s Cheesy Chicken and Rice Dinner Salmonella Outbreak:  Marler Clark’s Salmonella lawyers represented victims of a Salmonella serotype Chester outbreak linked to Marie Callender’s Cheesy Chicken and Rice dinners in 2010. At least 44 people in 18 states became ill with Salmonella infections after eating the ConAgra-made products between April 11 and August 27, 2010.

Collaborative investigative efforts of public health officials linked the outbreak to Marie Callender’s Cheesy Chicken & Rice single-serve frozen entrées. The CDC launched an epidemiologic study and found that ill persons were significantly more likely than well persons to report eating a frozen meal, and all ill persons who ate frozen meals reported eating a Marie Callender’s frozen meal. Additionally, two unopened packages of Marie Callender’s Cheesy Chicken & Rice entrées collected from two patients’ homes yielded Salmonella Chester isolates with a genetic fingerprint indistinguishable from the outbreak pattern.

After the CDC informed ConAgra Foods of a possible association between the Marie Callender’s Cheesy Chicken & Rice entrées and the outbreak of Salmonella Chester infections, ConAgra recalled the product on June 17, 2010. Products subject to the recall bore on their package label, “P-45” inside the USDA mark of inspection.

On June 23, 2010, Marler Clark filed a Salmonella lawsuit against ConAgra on behalf of an Oregon man who was sickened by the frozen meal. A second Salmonella lawsuit was filed on behalf of another outbreak victim on June 25.

And, guess what?  Each time these manufacturers produced and sold contaminated product they blamed the consumers for not cooking the sh&^ out of it.