Food Safety Advocates Speak Out about E. coli O157:H7 Outbreak


SAN DIEGO — The San Diego County Health Department announced yesterday that commercial bagged lettuce mix was the source of sixteen cases of potential E. coli O157:H7 in San Diego, and four cases in Orange County. The product was used in salads at Pat & Oscar’s restaurants, as well as in school lunches in San Diego County.

Contaminated lettuce was the source of an outbreak in the Pacific Northwest in the summer of 2002. Over 50 high school girls attending a dance camp at Eastern Washington University were sickened as a result of consuming the contaminated lettuce. Some suffered severe complications of their infections, and were hospitalized with Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome, or HUS.

“Clearly, there is a problem when our public schools and universities are serving contaminated product,” said William Marler, the Seattle attorney best known for successful representation of E. coli victims, who represents several people sickened in last year’s E. coli outbreak. “The lettuce didn’t get contaminated by itself. Somewhere, whether it was on the farm or during the production process, the lettuce came in contact with fecal matter. Now that lettuce is being served to our kids through the USDA’s National School Lunch Program. It’s disgusting.”

Roni Rudolph Austin became a food safety advocate when her daughter, Lauren Rudolph, died after eating an E. coli O157:H7-contaminated hamburger from Jack in the Box in 1992. Rudolph Austin commented on this outbreak, saying, “It all comes down to prevention. The source is supposed to be protecting us, and the source is the USDA.”

“As a consumer, you can’t prevent what you can’t see,” Rudolph Austin concluded. “But if you know there is potential for a problem, and you know there are ways to curtail the situation in the first place, doesn’t it make sense to do it then, instead of after the fact? The USDA is the largest protector of the nation’s food supply. Where was the USDA?”

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BACKGROUND: On September 3rd the Washington Supreme Court declined to review a decision upholding a $4.6 million award to 11 children injured in a 1998 E. coli O157:H7 outbreak that was linked to undercooked taco meat served as part of a school lunch at an elementary school. Marler Clark (www.marlerclark.com) represented the school children in this case, both at trial, and on appeal. The firm has extensive experience representing victims of food-borne illnesses. William Marler represented Brianne Kiner in her $15.6 million settlement with Jack in the Box in 1993. In 1998, Marler Clark resolved the Odwalla Juice E. coli outbreak for five families whose children developed HUS and were severely injured after consuming contaminated apple juice for $12 million. Since 1993 Marler Clark has successfully resolved well over a thousand food-borne illness matters.

More about the Gold Coast Produce lettuce E. coli outbreak can be found in the Case News area of this site.