Header graphic for print

Food Poison Journal

Food Poisoning Outbreaks and Litigation: Surveillance and Analysis

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.

Salmonella Illnesses Prompt Peanut Butter Recall

nSpired Natural Foods, Inc. is 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 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.

The use-by date can be found on the top of the jar lid. The Company is currently working with customers and retailers to remove and destroy products with the above use-by dates from store shelves and warehouses.  Products were distributed across the United States, Canada, Hong Kong, United Arab Emirates, and Dominican Republic. The products also were available for purchase on the internet.  A complete list of recalled product is found here.

Salmonella is an organism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and those with weakened immune systems. 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.

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.