As federal and state health officials in the South work to find the source of what appears to be a multistate E. coli outbreak that recently took the life of a 21-month-old child in Louisiana, attorneys at Marler Clark, The Food Safety Law Firm are urging the public to stay informed on issues surrounding E. coli. 

Shiga toxin–producing E. coli (STEC) causes approximately 175,000 illnesses, 4,000 hospitalizations, and 100 deaths annually in the United States.  Although foods of bovine origin are the most common cause of both outbreaks and sporadic cases of E. coli serotype O157:H7 infections, outbreaks of illnesses have been linked to a wide variety of food items.  For example, produce has been the source of substantial numbers of outbreak-related E. coli O157:H7 infections since at least 2000. Outbreaks have been linked to alfalfa, clover and radish sprouts, lettuce, and spinach. Other vehicles for outbreaks include unpasteurized juices, yogurt, dried salami, mayonnaise, raw milk, game meats, hazelnuts, and raw cookie dough.

Marler Clark has represented victims of every major foodborne illness outbreak since the notorious 1993 Jack in the Box E. coli O157:H7 outbreak.  In 2007 the firm’s E. coli attorneys represented Stephanie Smith, a 19-year-old dance instructor whose E. coli infection left her in a months-long coma and paralyzed from the waist down. Michael Moss of the New York Times won a Pulitzer Prize for an article he wrote about Ms. Smith and the beef responsible for her illness.  In 2009 the firm worked on behalf of Linda Rivera, a mother of six who was hospitalized for over a year when from a severe E. coli contracted from eating cookie dough.

In 2009, outcomes of cases like these implored Marler Clark attorneys to petition the U.S. Department of Agriculture to increase E. coli testing in meat.  In 2011, the USDA responded by announcing it would indeed begin a ramped up testing program – a program that kicked off this month.

“We’ve been fortunate to see tremendous progress in food safety since I began this practice nearly twenty years ago,” said Marler Clark attorney William Marler. “Unfortunately, that progress feels negated when you read of these heartbreaking outbreaks.  Indeed to the families involved, it feels totally nonexistent.”

E. coli can lead to a severe, life-threatening complication called the hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). HUS accounts for the majority of the acute deaths and chronic injuries caused by the bacteria. HUS occurs in 2-7% of victims, primarily children, with onset five to ten days after diarrhea begins. E. coli serotype O157:H7 infection has been recognized as the most common cause of HUS in the United States and it is the most common cause of renal failure in children.