At Marler Clark it was a busy week taking care of consumers sickened by Salmonella-tainted cucumbers nationwide, sickened with Salmonella at Minnesota Chipotle restaurants and Norovirus at a Simi Valley Chipotle. In between we had the opportunity to weigh in with the press nationwide on some of the new food safety rules.
Attorney Bill Marler, who is representing the victim from Minnesota, said the recall didn’t come soon enough.
“One person has died eating what is usually a healthy food and hundreds have been sickened so far. As these cucumbers were sold to restaurants and home cooks, it’s possible the number of illnesses will rise,” said Marler, known nationwide as a food safety advocate.
Marler, whose Seattle-based law firm specializes in food contamination cases, said that there have been large outbreaks tied to cucumbers each of the past three years. The source of the outbreak in the other two cases was contaminated water used to rinse the cucumbers.
Marler said he suspects that federal investigators likely will find tainted water as the contamination source of this outbreak, too. The Food and Drug Administration will conduct an investigation to identify the source of the contamination, though it could take several months before that is completed.
Foodborne illness attorney, Bill Marler says while the cucumbers carried the bacteria in from Mexico the outbreak of sickness was first spotted in Montana.
“You know was it dirty wash water, was there a problem in the cleaning of the cucumbers in Mexico, was it in the storage of the cucumbers when they made it into the United States but in many respects it is trying to figure out why these things happen becomes a big focus of the lawsuit,” said Marler.
On Thursday, Sept. 10, Beck sued Chipotle in U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota. Represented by attorneys Joseph Flynn in St. Paul, MN, and William D. Marler in Seattle, Beck has filed a four-count federal lawsuit against the restaurant chain (Marler is also publisher of Food Safety News.). She is suing based on strict liability, breach of warranty, negligence and negligence per se.
Food safety advocate and attorney Bill Marler feels the rules are game changing. Marler led a lawsuit against Jensen Farms, the grower of the cantaloupes.
“These rules really are sort of the guts behind the enforcement mechanism of getting companies to pay attention to make food safer,” said Marler.
Since the Jack In The Box outbreak, Marler says E. coli cases involving undercooked meat have declined. He says about 10 years ago there were issues with spinach and lettuce.
“In the last couple of years, the spinach and lettuce industry got it under control, now we are seeing is mishandling in restaurants where most of E. coli cases are coming from now,” said Marler.
He says the outbreaks have been smaller, between five and 15 people, rather than hundreds as in years past.
“The real problem is now convincing restaurants that there is still risk,” he said.
William Marler, a Seattle attorney who has represented victims of foodborne illness, said the new rules are, in many respects, modeled after preventative measures in the fish industry, as well as those for leafy greens, developed after the 2006 E. coli outbreak in spinach.
“I think the preventative controls go a long way to making manufactured food safer,” he told USA TODAY. “The good news for the public and business is that there will likely be fewer illnesses and fewer lawsuits — which is a good thing.”
“The real question is how do you enforce it,” said famed food safety lawyer William Marler. “We’re asking companies to implement the rules with very little oversight. Is that ultimately going to be sufficient to make our food supply safer? The jury is still out.”
Marler also noted that the FDA has become far more willing to harshly prosecute food safety violations since Obama came to office. This summer, executives of the Peanut Corporation of America were found guilty of knowingly selling salmonella-tainted peanut butter that sparked a food poisoning outbreak that killed at least nine people. The plant’s former owner now faces life imprisonment, which is unprecedented in the history of American food safety. Marler speculated that the looming threat of personal punishment for infractions could spur executives to take the rules seriously, even if the chance of inspection is low.
This may be money well spent for food producers, if only because it may leave their customers feeling more confident about the food they eat. Many companies already have these rules in place, and they’re doing the trick, says attorney Bill Marler.
“In the ’90s, 90 percent of my law firm’s revenue was E. coli cases linked to hamburger. That’s now zero,” he says.
Marler says safer food means companies don’t have to worry about $100 million recalls and class action lawsuits. The question now is whether Congress will give the FDA what it needs to enforce the new rules. The Senate and House are proposing less than half of what the regulators have requested to improve food safety.
Marler told the Simi Valley Acorn that he filed a complaint Wednesday in federal court against Chipotle, which is headquartered in Denver, on behalf of two clients alleging negligence for serving contaminated food. The attorney said he’ll most likely add other clients to the complaint once he has the necessary evidence.
“Norovirus is something no one would wish on their worst enemy and . . . (my clients) were sick for three to seven days before recovering,” the attorney told the Acorn. “They . . . are entitled their medical expenses, any wages lost and any inconvenience and suffering during the time they were sick.”
Marler opened his firm in 1994 after working on the 1993 Jack in the Box case that left hundreds sick with e. Coli, including more than 100 people who were hospitalized for acute kidney failure and four children who died. He has also worked on some of the largest salmonella, E. coli and Listeria cases across the nation, including the spinach E. coli outbreak in 2006 and the Listeria outbreak linked to cantaloupe that killed 33 people in 2011.
“The number of norovirus cases we’re involved in has grown over the last five years primarily because it’s becoming more virulent and it’s more easily tracked to ill workers,” he said.