22 sickened so far; Source of illnesses likely Elders Picnic on July 17

 Marler Clark, a Seattle-based law firm specializing in food safety, has been retained to investigate the source of an E. coli O157 outbreak on the Fond du Lac Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa Reservation near Duluth, MN. Robert Danielson, a resident of Cloquet in Carlton County, reached out to Marler Clark after becoming one of now 22 people sickened in the outbreak.

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) announced earlier this week that it was investigating the illnesses as well —which reportedly first began on July 17. With several recent community events on the reservation—powwows, picnics, potlucks, and outdoor meetings—it has been difficult to nail down the source.

Working with MDH, Marler Clark’s own investigative team, which includes epidemiologists who are well-trained in finding the causes of foodborne outbreaks, is now in the process of confirming the source: the Elders Picnic held on July 11 at the gymnasium of the Fond du Lac Ojibwe School.  Within days of the picnic, multiple tribal members, including Danielson, fell ill.  Danielson’s illness eventually required emergency medical attention.

Often, finding the source of a foodborne illness outbreak can be challenging even when a common event or location can be isolated. In this case, there were several events that fell within the window of infection that those who became ill attended. Add to this, like most close-knit communities, all of these events involved food either made by a caterer or brought in potluck-style.

“Weddings, picnics, potlucks, parties—they’re all notorious breeding grounds for foodborne illness,” said Bill Marler, Marler Clark founding partner. “It doesn’t matter if the food is catered or made in the host’s kitchen—both have an equal chance of making guests sick. ‘Home-cooked’ might sound delicious, but if basic food safety rules, like cooking to the appropriate temperature or avoiding cross contamination, aren’t followed, it’s a recipe for disaster.”

Marler has been on the front lines of food safety for more than two decades. Some of his first related clients stemmed from the outbreak E. coli O157: H7 traced back to the fast food chain Jack in the Box in the early 1990s.  More recently, he represented Minnesota-native Stephanie Smith whose dreams of being a dancer were shattered after she ate a hamburger tainted with O157: H7.

Fond du Lac health officials have urged reservation residents who brought home food from an event in the last several weeks to throw these leftovers away.

Anyone who becomes ill with E. coli O157 should contact the Department of Health. Symptoms of E. coli O157 can include stomach cramps, bloody diarrhea, and fever. More severe cases—usually found in children and the elderly—can cause Hemolytic-uremic syndrome, a potentially life threatening disorder.

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.