"Something's Happening Here"


SEATTLE -- In the last few months, Marler Clark[1] has been contacted by individuals, mostly the parents of young children, who have suffered from E. coli O157:H7 infections[2]. The victims live in New York, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Minnesota, and Oregon. The food implicated as the source of their infections is primarily ground beef or hamburger patties, but lettuce and parsley have also been implicated. Outbreaks of E. coli O157:H7 were reported in Toledo, Ohio, Seattle, Washington, and Bend, Oregon during October. To borrow from Buffalo Springfield, “Something’s happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear.”

A recent report released by the CDC, in collaboration with the FDA and USDA, showed important declines in foodborne infections due to common bacterial pathogens, such as E. coli O157:H7, in 2004.[3] According to the report, the incidence of E. coli O157:H7 infections decreased 42 percent between 1996 and 2004. Prior to the 2005 report, the CDC estimated that E. coli O157:H7 sickened some 75,000 Americans yearly. And although there has been a drop, we can see from recent events that these illnesses still do occur. What we know:

  • An eight-year-old girl consumed ground beef purchased at a supermarket in Glenwood, New York, in late August. She suffered Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome[4] (HUS) and was on dialysis for over a week. The meat she consumed was found to be contaminated with the same genetic strain of E. coli O157:H7 that was isolated from the girl’s stool. To date the meat produced has not been subject to a recall. The supermarket recalled E. coli-contaminated beef in July 2002.
  • An eight-year-old boy consumed ground beef purchased at a supermarket in Manchester, New Hampshire in early September. He suffered HUS and was on dialysis for several days. The meat he consumed was found to be contaminated with the same strain of E. coli that was isolated from the boy’s stool. To date, the meat produced has not been recalled. The store recalled E. coli-contaminated beef in August 2000, August 2001 and August 2002.
  • A New Jersey woman consumed ground beef, suffered Thrombotic Thrombocytopenic Purpura[5] (TTP) and was hospitalized for over a week. The meat she consumed was found to be contaminated with the same strain of E. coli that was isolated from her stool. A recall of approximately 63,000 pounds of frozen ground beef was posted by the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Services arm in June.
  • Twenty-three people in Minnesota and one each in Oregon and Wisconsin became ill with E. coli O157:H7 infections after eating Dole brand “pre-washed” lettuce. At least one child was hospitalized with Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome. Dole recalled 245,000 bags of lettuce after lettuce in an unopened bag tested positive for the same strain of E. coli isolated from the victims’ stool.
  • State and federal health investigators are trying to pinpoint the source of a recent E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in Toledo, Ohio. Fourteen people became ill in late August and early September, and one death may be attributable to the outbreak.
  • More than a dozen people at a nursing home suffered from symptoms E. coli O157:H7 infections, and at least four cases of E. coli were confirmed. Health officials have not specified the source of the infection, or whether it might have been foodborne, but they insist there is no further risk to the facility or to the general public.
  • At least eight Washington State residents became ill with E. coli O157:H7 infections in an outbreak between August and early September in different counties. Four of the eight ate at a King County Olive Garden restaurant.
  • More than seventy people complained of symptoms of E. coli O157:H7 infection after eating at a Bend, Oregon, restaurant. Bacteria isolated from four ill persons was genetically matched to a strain of E. coli found in contaminated parsley used as a garnish at the restaurant. Health officials have linked the Bend outbreak to an outbreak in Washington State.
  • A five-year-old child from Pillager, Minnesota, was hospitalized for over a month when she developed HUS secondary to an E. coli infection. Health officials are looking at the possibility that her illness was caused by her consumption of E. coli-contaminated ground beef.
  • Three Saratoga County, New York residents became ill with E. coli O157:H7 infections after eating ground beef patties made by Philly-Gourmet Beef Co. in October. Philly-Gourmet recalled the ground beef patties after the hamburgers were determined to be the source of the illnesses.

So, although the CDC seems to indicate that E. coli is on a downward trend, it seems that this nasty bug is determined to find its way into our food supply and the mouths of unsuspecting consumers.

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Background: William Marler is the managing partner in the law firm Marler Clark L.L.P., P.S. Since 1993, Mr. Marler has represented thousands of victims of E. coli, Salmonella, Hepatitis A, Listeria, Shigella, Campylobacter and Norovirus illnesses in over thirty States. His first client sickened by E. coli O157:H7 was nine-year-old Brianne Kiner, who fell ill after eating a contaminated hamburger during the now-infamous Jack in the Box E. coli outbreak in 1993. Bill negotiated a $15.6 million settlement for Brianne’s injuries, a record in the State of Washington for personal injury cases. He has since obtained multi-million dollar verdicts or settlements for other seriously ill children whose injuries were the result of food poisoning.

Bill speaks frequently on issues of safe food and is a principal in OutBreak, Inc., a non-profit business dedicated to training companies on how to avoid foodborne diseases. See also www.marlerblog.com.