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Romaine Lettuce E. Coli Outbreak Lawsuits (2019)

In 2019, Bill Marler, managing partner of Marler Clark was retained by two individuals sickened in the recent E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks announced by governmental officials as linked to romaine lettuce likely grown in California. To date, E. coli lawyers at Marler Clark represent over a dozen victims in this outbreak, achieving settlements covering medical expenses, wage loss, and pain and suffering. At this time, the majority of these cases are still undergoing litigation.

“With more illnesses, now with at least ten with acute kidney failure, it is past time for the leafy green industry to put the health, safety and lives of consumers first,” said Marler Clark managing partner, Bill Marler. “Since the early 2000’s the industry has pushed prepackaged leafy greens on consumers without adequately addressing the root causes of many of these outbreaks – environmental contamination from cattle,” added Marler.

According to Marler, “It is past time for all stakeholders: growers, processors and retailers of leafy greens to work with the cattle and dairy industries, along with local, state and federal health agencies to come to a solution to this ongoing and systemic environmental problem. We cannot allow E. coli illnesses and deaths to continue to be ‘a cost of doing business.’”

As of 2019, according to the FDA, there were three outbreaks under investigation. These outbreaks were each caused by strains that were different from each other. One of the additional outbreaks, in Washington state (13 sick), was potentially linked to romaine lettuce. The other outbreak, with cases in the U.S. and Canada, was linked to Fresh Express Sunflower Crisp Chopped Salad Kits (8 sick in US and 25 sick in Canada).

Note: According to the FDA - "The FDA, CDC and our state partners have identified a common grower between each of the outbreaks, which is a notable development."

At least 583 sickened with E. coli linked to leafy greens in the US and Canada since 2017.

According to the CDC, since the previous update on December 4, 2019, an additional 36 ill people have been reported. As of December 17, 2019, a total of 138 people infected with the outbreak strain of E. coli O157:H7 had been reported from 25 states.

Illnesses started on dates ranging from September 20, 2019, to December 1, 2019. Ill people ranged in age from less than 1 to 89 years, with a median age of 26. Sixty-two percent of ill people were female. Of 136 ill people with information available, 72 hospitalizations had been reported, including 13 people who developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a type of kidney failure. No deaths had been reported.

Epidemiologic, laboratory, and traceback evidence indicate that romaine lettuce from the Salinas, California, growing region is the likely source of this outbreak.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services reported that they identified the outbreak strain of E. coli O157:H7 in an unopened bag of Fresh Express ® brand Leafy Green Romaine collected from an ill person’s home. Salinas, California was the source of the romaine identified in the bag.

FDA and states continued to trace the source of the romaine lettuce eaten by ill people. FDA posted an update on on their investigation on December 12, 2019, saying the investigation was ongoing to determine the source of contamination and if additional products are linked to illness. CDC continued to advise that consumers not eat and retailers not sell any romaine lettuce grown in Salinas, California.

This outbreak was caused by the same strain of E. coli O157:H7 that caused outbreaks linked to leafy greens in 2017 and to romaine lettuce in 2018.

The Maryland Department of Health identified E. coli O157:H7 in an unopened package of Ready Pac Bistro® Chicken Caesar Salad collected from an ill person’s home in Maryland. Analysis of this salad, through Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS), linked strain E. coli O157:H7 to three Maryland cases and the multi-state outbreak.

On Nov. 21, 2019, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced a recall by Missa Bay, LLC, a Swedesboro, N.J. establishment, of approximately 75,233 pounds of salad products that contained meat or poultry because the lettuce ingredient may have been contaminated with E. coli 0157:H7. Products in this recall were produced with the same lot of lettuce that was used to produce the packaged salad that the Maryland Department of Health found to contain E. coli 0157:H7.

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