19 New Jersey residents ill in latest E. coli O157:H7 outbreak


Health officials continue to look for source of E. coli contamination

SEATTLE, WA – An E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in New Jersey has sickened at least 19 people, most of whom reported eating at New Jersey Taco Bell restaurants in the days before they became ill with symptoms of E. coli infections. The victims range in age from one to 23 years old. Seven remain hospitalized, two with hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a complication of an E. coli infection that can lead to kidney failure, central nervous system impairment, and death.*

Health officials are working to trace the source of the outbreak back to a particular food served at Taco Bell restaurants in South Plainfield, Edison, and Franklin Township. A 1999 outbreak traced to San Francisco-area Taco Bell restaurants was determined to be caused by consumption of under-cooked ground beef; however, recent E. coli outbreaks at other fast food restaurants have also been traced to contaminated fresh produce such as lettuce.

“In the last ten years we’ve seen a decline in the number of E. coli cases traced to ground beef and an increase in the number of cases traced to fresh produce,” said William Marler, an attorney who has represented thousands of victims of E. coli outbreaks, including 97 victims of the E. coli outbreak traced to contaminated spinach last September. “With Taco Bell making products that contain both ground beef and fresh produce, it may be difficult for health department investigation to turn up the source of this latest outbreak.”

Marler, who gave a speech at the New Jersey Environmental Health Association conference titled, "How Health Department Data are used in Foodborne Illness Litigation," in May, sponsors a blog about E. coli, and writes his own blog about foodborne illness outbreaks and litigation. His firm, Marler Clark, has extensive experience representing victims of foodborne illnesses. Marler represented Brianne Kiner in her $15.6 million settlement with Jack in the Box in 1993. In 1998, Marler Clark resolved Odwalla Juice E. coli outbreak cases for five families whose children developed HUS and were severely injured after consuming contaminated apple juice for a reported $12 million. Since that time, Marler Clark has represented thousands of victims of foodborne illness, and has recovered several multi-million dollar settlements for children who developed HUS. He is available for comment at (206) 346-1888.

*Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome is a frightening illness that even in the best American medical facilities has a mortality rate of about 5%. About 50% of patients require dialysis due to kidney failure, 25% experience seizures, and 5% suffer from diabetes mellitus. The majority of HUS patients requires transfusion of blood products and develops complications common to the critically ill. Among survivors of HUS, about five percent will eventually develop end stage kidney disease, with the resultant need for dialysis or transplantation, and another five to ten percent experience neurological or pancreatic problems which significantly impair quality of life.

More about the Taco Bell E. coli outbreak can be found in the Case News area of this site.