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FDA Rules Target Tainted Juices

New federal rules intended to ensure the safety of fruit and vegetable juices are being proposed after a north suburban girl and others became severely ill from drinking tainted apple juice.

Amanda Berman was 3 1/2 years old when she entered Children's Memorial Hospital and underwent kidney dialysis in 1996.

She got food poisoning after drinking unpasteurized apple juice contaminated with the E. coli 0157:H7 bacterium. Amanda drank the juice at a Seattle coffee shop.

About a week after returning home to Highland Park, Amanda became sick and was hospitalized. In all, 66 people in Seattle were sickened by the juice. The common ground: All drank juice manufactured by Odwalla Inc., headquartered in Half Moon Bay, Calif., south of San Francisco.

Until the Seattle incidents, it was thought that this version of E. coli did not exist in fruits and vegetables.

A 16-month-old child from Colorado died. Amanda spent 21 days in a hospital, said William Marler, her Seattle attorney.

The match between the toxic bacteria and the Odwalla juice was made through the use of DNA to identify distinctive "foodprints" found in the juice and the people -- mostly children -- who became sick.

The outbreak prompted the two rules proposed by the federal Food and Drug Administration.

One rule would require fresh juice processors to have a hazard analysis and critical control point system that identifies potential contamination hazards in the plant. Makers of unpasteurized juices would be required to drastically reduce the number of harmful microbes in the drink.

Another rule would require a warning label on containers of non-pasteurized or untreated drinks, stating that the beverage "may contain harmful bacteria which can cause serious illness in children, the elderly and persons with weakened immune systems."

According to the FDA, about 98 percent of the juice sold in the United States is pasteurized. The FDA is aiming to complete the new rules in time for the fall apple harvest.

On Tuesday, Odwalla executives told the FDA that they supported the labeling requirements.

The Odwalla episode prompted a Fresno, Calif., grand jury investigation to determine whether the company criminally violated food safety laws. "We continue to cooperate fully," said Odwalla spokesman Chris Gallagher.

On behalf of the Bermans and four other families, attorney Marler sued Odwalla. A settlement was reached last week.

The families and Odwalla agreed not to disclose the settlement details.

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