When The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report last week citing romaine lettuce as the source of a multi-state 60-person E. coli O157:H7 outbreak linked to Schnucks supermarkets, it indicated that the E. coli O157:H7 contamination most likely occurred before the lettuce reached Schnucks stores. While the CDC did not name any companies that handled the lettuce before it reached Schnucks, it stated in the report that the lettuce came from a single farm, was processed at a single facility, and was supplied to Schnucks by a single distributor.
In an effort to unearth these details, last week, Marler Clark, the nation’s leading law firm representing victims of E. coli outbreaks, asked Schnucks to disclose the name of its lettuce supplier. Today, the firm has learned the identity of the distributor in question: Vaughan Foods of Moore, Oklahoma. Last week the firm also filed a lawsuit against Schnucks on behalf of a woman who was hospitalized with E. coli O157:H7, and is now adding Vaughan Foods to that claim.
“We’re pleased to be one step closer to getting to the bottom of this outbreak,” said Marler Clark E. coli attorney William Marler. “Of course, it would be easier if we knew the names of all parties involved, but we intend to apply pressure and follow this all the way upstream until we find the root cause of this outbreak.”
According to its Website, Vaughan Foods distributes fresh food products to 36 states and has plants in both Moore, Oklahoma and Fort Worth, Texas. In May, 2010 Vaughan Foods recalled all of its romaine lettuce when it was discovered that a farm it did business with had grown lettuce linked to a 23-person E. coli O145 outbreak in the Midwest. Vaughan Foods’ products were not linked to any illnesses during the 2010 E. coli outbreak.
“Civil litigation is a good tool for improving food safety,” Marler added. “Companies shouldn’t wait until they’re sued to evaluate the food safety systems of their suppliers and make sure products can be traced back to the source.”