In the wake of the Oregon Public Health announcement that at least 10 people, including one woman who died, became ill with E. coli O157:H7 infections after eating fresh strawberries sold at farmers markets and roadside fruit stands in Oregon, the Seattle-based food safety law firm Marler Clark announced today that it is donating $5,000 to the Portland-based Food Alliance. The firm is asking that the donation be used to promote small agriculture food safety.
Oregon Public Health investigators suspect the strawberries may have become contaminated with E. coli by deer roaming the fields. “Any fruit or vegetable that is grown on the ground can get contaminated in a variety of ways,” said Marler Clark Managing Partner William Marler. “During the 2006 spinach E. coli outbreak, investigators suspected contamination by wild boars as a potential source of contamination in spinach fields. Now Oregon suspects deer. Whether it’s Local or Big Ag, proper precautions must be taken to prevent field contamination of fresh produce.”
According to its Website, the Food Alliance “provides comprehensive third-party certification for social and environmental responsibility in agriculture and the food industry.”
“It is our hope that this donation will ensure that best practices promoting improved food safety among small farms become more widely available,” Marler added, noting this is the first known E. coli O157:H7 outbreak linked to fresh strawberries. “Small farms may not have the same degree of resources or access to knowledge about food safety practices as larger food producers, but a lack of these things is no excuse when it comes to a deadly E. coli outbreak.”
“This unfortunate outbreak provides a perfect opportunity for the strawberry industry to immediately reflect on its practices, and find ways to prevent the contamination problems that other segments of the produce industry have seen.”
Marler has been at the forefront of E. coli litigation since 1993, when he represented E. coli victim Brianne Kiner in her $15.6 million settlement with Jack in the Box. Since then, he has worked on behalf of thousands of foodborne illness victims and advocated nationally for improved food safety measures to prevent E. coli and other foodborne illness outbreaks. Earlier this year, Marler Clark donated $10,000 to the International Sprout Growers Association to help improve food safety efforts among sprout producers.
Marler is the central figure in a new book titled ‘Poisoned,’ which chronicles the industry-changing Jack in the Box outbreak. He has made gifts of many copies of the book to industry, public health officials, and United States Senators in an effort to bring food safety into sharper relief on a national, and international, scale. He has also given copies of “Poisoned” to area law schools, including Willamette and Lewis and Clark.