Header graphic for print

Food Poison Journal

Food Poisoning Outbreaks and Litigation: Surveillance and Analysis

Lawsuit Filed by California Woman Sickened by Salmonella Montevideo from Brent’s Deli

Plaintiff is one of 21 people infected in 2014 Salmonella outbreak following countless health violations against Westlake Village restaurant

Ventura County resident Stephanie Wehr filed a lawsuit against Brent’s Delicatessen & Restaurant over a severe case of Salmonella poisoning she suffered after eating at the restaurant’s Westlake Village location. Wehr is represented by Trevor M. Quirk of Quirk Law Firm, LLP in Ventura, CA., and Bill Marler of Marler Clark, a Seattle-based firm specializing in food safety.  See Outbreak Investigation Timeline.See Inspection Reports.

In 2014, Wehr was one of 21 people who became seriously ill after eating food tainted with Salmonella serotype Montevideo from Brent’s Delicatessen & Restaurant in Westlake Village, which is located in Ventura County. Two of the victims were employees of Brent’s. Eight customers were hospitalized.

Wehr, who purchased and consumed a sandwich and potato salad from Brent’s Deli on August 2, 2014, began feeling ill the following day while at work. For the next several days, she experienced agonizing symptoms, including excruciating abdominal pain, uncontrollable diarrhea, high fever, nausea, and vomiting. She made several trips to see doctors at Kaiser Oxnard and was prescribed medication, but due to nausea and vomiting, she was unable to keep it down. She again contacted Kaiser on the morning of August 5 and was admitted.

By the time she was admitted to the hospital, she was lethargic and short of breath. Her heart rate was an astounding 118, nearly twice the normal resting rate for a healthy adult. Since seeing a doctor the day before, she had lost 10 pounds. Because of severe stomach cramps, her abdomen was too tender to undergo examination. Soon she was admitted to Ventura Community Memorial Hospital where she stayed for five days, and ultimately was diagnosed with Salmonella poisoning.

The County of Ventura Environmental Health Division conducted an on-site inspection at Brent’s Deli on July 9, 2014—more than three weeks before Wehr ate there. Multiple food safety violations were noted including improper sanitation, cooling, and storage issues. The restaurant manager was instructed to correct all violations immediately. A follow-up inspection was conducted on July 22. Major food safety violations were again noted. Specifically, potentially hazardous foods were not properly cooled, that is held at or below 41 degrees. In addition, wiping cloths were not kept in sanitizing solutions between uses and employees were not properly washing their hands before handling food or clean utensils, among other violations.

“Considering that the owners and management of Brent’s Deli had multiple opportunities to fix known health violations, we can only guess they willfully ignored the problems, said Bill Marler, who has been working to help improve food safety standards since representing victims of the Jack In The Box E. coli outbreak in the early 1990s.

“There is no excuse for the negligence of Brent’s Deli and the failure of its owners and management to perform to legal food safety standards,” said Trevor Quirk, who has been a victim advocate for close to a decade. “Brent’s may have a reputation for a family atmosphere, but they knowingly put their customers at risk over easily remedied health violations, like improper hygiene standards.”

During the August 2014 Salmonella outbreak, after continuing reports of sickened customers, the health department once again inspected the restaurant. Multiple violations—including issues noted in previous inspections—were found. During the investigation, no food or environmental samples tested positive with the outbreak strain of Salmonella, but stool samples from two employees did. Previous health department violations noted that employees were not properly washing their hands after using the restroom and before returning to work.

Salmonella is transmitted by food, water, or surfaces that have been contaminated with the feces of an infected animal or person. Symptoms develop 6 to 72 hours after infection. One of the best ways to prevent the spread of Salmonella is to have proper hygiene and hand washing practices in place, especially after using the bathroom and before handling or preparing food.

Quirk Law Firm, LLC was founded in 2006 in Ventura, California with offices in California and Nevada. 100% of the practice is devoted to representing people who have been injured or lost a loved one. Quirk Law Firm represents diverse clients including accident victims, homeowners’ associations, start-up and established businesses, professional skateboarders, professional models, employees, and everyday individuals.

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.

2008 E. coli O157:H7 Outbreak at a Washington Ixtapa Restaurant

Snohomish County Health District (SCHD) Communicable Disease (CD) program received the first report of a confirmed E. coli O157:H7 illness, in what would soon become a cluster of such illnesses, on October 14, 2008. The next report of illness came the following day, October 15.  It was subsequently determined that both ill individuals had dined at Ixtapa in Lake Stevens in the days before onset of their illnesses.

The third and fourth reports of illness came in on October 16, and when these people reported that they, too, had eaten at Ixtapa, SCHD knew that an outbreak was underway.  Many more reports of illness followed.  Accordingly, SCHD issued a press release on October 21, 2008, stating that the health authorities investigating the cluster of E. coli O157:H7 illnesses had “narrowed down the likely source of E. coli illness . . . [to] Ixtapa restaurant, 303-91st Ave. NE. #B201.”  Ixtapa voluntarily closed for business the same day so that it could be sanitized.

Ultimately, the collaborative investigation between SCHD and the Washington State Department of Health (WDOH) concluded that 68 people were likely infected by E. coli O157:H7 in the outbreak. The investigation also determined that there was a “strong association” between consuming guacamole at Ixtapa and becoming ill, but SCHD/WSDOH was unable to definitively conclude that guacamole was the specific food vehicle for transmission of E. coli bacteria to all restaurant patrons.

More likely, it was a combination of contaminated guacamole and other modes of transmission within the Ixtapa facility that made so many people ill.  Notably, WSDOH’s lead investigator wrote in an October 20, 2008 email:

We learned that they don’t wear gloves all the time (just as Chris suspected).  Primarily the cooks have bhc [bare-hand contact] at night when there is less chance someone will catch them without gloves.  Also, The wait staff use bare hands on tortillas both before and after they are warmed in the steamer.  They use a scoop to put chips in a basket but bare hands to assist in this process.

***

They do not regularly use sanitizer and they don’t know how to check the concentration of the sanitizer.  We found buckets without sanitizer and many wiping cloths without sanitizer too.  This indicates a lack of ability to properly clean and sanitize work areas.

The cutting boards and wiping cloths are all stained and or very dirty.  Their outer clothing and dry towels are frequently used for hand cleaning as they too are very dirty with food debris.  The stains are from both raw meat and other foods indicating a lack of cross contamination control.

In other words, conditions at Ixtapa were ripe for exactly the kind of unfortunate scenario that played out at the restaurant in October 2008.  The E. coli O157:H7 bacteria clearly came into the restaurant on one item (if not from an infected foodworker), and there it found an environment where it was allowed to flourish, sickening people for almost two straight weeks by multiple different vectors and food-handling errors.

In any case, the SCHD and WSDOH findings leave little doubt whether Ixtapa the source of this significant outbreak; and they eliminate any argument that any other person or entity—e.g. upstream suppliers—are at fault.  As a result, unless Ixtapa challenges the epidemiological relatedness of any particular client to the outbreak, these are damages-only cases.

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.

2012 Salmonella Outbreak Linked to Cantaloupe

CDC collaborated with public health officials in many states and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to investigate a multi-state outbreak of Salmonella Typhimurium and Salmonella Newport infections linked to cantaloupe originating from Chamberlain Farms Produce, Inc. of Owensville, Indiana.

Public health investigators used DNA “fingerprints” of Salmonella bacteria obtained through diagnostic testing with pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) to identify cases of illness that may be part of this outbreak.  They used data from PulseNet, the national subtyping network made up of state and local public health laboratories and federal food regulatory laboratories that performs molecular surveillance of foodborne infections.

A total of 261 individuals infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Typhimurium and Salmonella Newport were reported from 24 states:  Alabama (25), Arkansas (6), Florida (1), Georgia (13), Illinois (36), Indiana (30), Iowa (9), Kentucky (66), Maryland (1), Michigan (8), Minnesota (2), Mississippi (7), Missouri (17), Montana (1), New Jersey (2), North Carolina (5), Ohio (5), Oklahoma (1), Pennsylvania (2), South Carolina (4), Tennessee (8), Texas (2), Virginia (1), and Wisconsin (9).

Among 257 persons for whom information was available, illness onset dates ranged from July 6, 2012 to September 16, 2012.  Ill persons ranged in age from less than 1 year to 100 years, with a median age of 47 years.  Fifty-five percent (55%) of ill persons were female.  Among 163 persons with available information, 84 (51%) reported being hospitalized.  Three deaths were reported in Kentucky.  Results of antibiotic susceptibility testing indicated that this strain of Salmonella is susceptible to commonly prescribed antibiotics.

From August 14-16, 2012 investigators from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) collected samples of cantaloupe at Chamberlain Farms.  They also took samples in the farm’s cantaloupe packinghouse from surfaces that would likely harbor bacteria.  This action was taken in cooperation with the Indiana State Department of Health.  FDA samples of cantaloupe collected at Chamberlain Farms showed the presence of Salmonella Typhimurium with an indistinguishable DNA fingerprint as the outbreak strain.  These samples also showed the presence of Salmonella Newport with a DNA fingerprint that was from the same outbreak strain that sickened 30 people in the states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin.  The link was supported by trace back information collected by state officials in Indiana and Illinois which showed that patients consumed cantaloupe bought at stores supplied by Chamberlain Farms.[1]

On October 3, 2012 the FDA released FDA Form (Inspectional Observations) for Chamberlain Farms.  Federal inspectors observed poor sanitary practices at the firm’s cantaloupe packing shed.  A third Salmonella serotype, Anatum, was isolated in samples obtained via environmental swabs collected from various locations and surfaces in the shed.  FDA inspectors noted that food contact surfaces were not constructed or designed in a manner to allow appropriate cleaning.  Multiple locations of the conveyor rollers and belts had accumulated black, green and brown buildup.  There was standing water in the shed.  The firm’s garbage receptacle was overflowing with garbage constituting an attractant, breeding place, or harborage for pests.[2]

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.


[2]           See FDA 483 Report, www.fda.gov/downloads/AboutFDA/…/ORA/…/UCM322103.pdf.

Salmonella Linked to Pecans and Sunflower Seeds

Freeland Foods, Inc. of San Jose, CA is voluntarily recalling the Go Raw Organic Sunflower Seed, UPC number 8 59888 00009 7 with lot number “Enjoy before August 22, 2015 R5,” because it has the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella, an organism which can cause serious infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems.

Based upon a random sampling, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (“CFIA”) has determined that the Go Raw Brand Organic Sunflower Seed, UPC number 8 59888 00009 7, lot number “Enjoy before August 22, 2015 R5,” sold in 1 lb. (454 g) re-sealable plastic bags sold by Ecomax, tested positive for Salmonella. At this time, this is the only lot that is affected by this recall.

Although there have been no reported illnesses to date associated with the consumption of this product, out of an abundance of caution Freeland Foods has elected to take the following steps to insure the integrity of its products and protect the public safety. Effective immediately, Freeland Foods will conduct a precautionary voluntary recall to the consumer level of all Go Raw Brand Organic Sunflower Seed packages bearing the UPC 8 59888 00009 7 and “Enjoy Before August 22, 2015 R5” in the United States.

Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary W. Black is alerting Georgians to the recall of certain pecan products for potential health risk. The products were distributed only in the State of Georgia, directly to consumers at the retail level from the Stone Mountain Pecan Company, located in Monroe.

The Stone Mountain Pecan Company is recalling 540 packages of the “Pecanettes” sold in 8-ounce packages, because the product has the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella, an organism that can cause serious infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems.

Based upon random sampling conducted by the GDA, it was determined the “Pecanettes” products tested positive for Salmonella. The products were sold in 8-ounce clear plastic packages, Lot code 4032A, with a “sell by date” of 12/30/15.

At this time, Pecanettes with lot number 4032A are the only products affected by this recall. To date, there have been no reports of illnesses associated with this recall.

Healthy persons infected with Salmonella often experience fever, diarrhea (which may be bloody), nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. In rare circumstances, infection with Salmonella can result in the organism getting into the bloodstream and producing more severe illnesses such as arterial infections (i.e., infected aneurysms), endocarditis and arthritis.