Seattle FOX 13 reported last night: BAINBRIDGE ISLAND, Wash. – Thirty years after a deadly E. coli strain linked to meat sold at local Jack in the Box restaurants broke out in Washington, a new Netflix feature about the outbreak will premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival on Friday, June 9.
“Poisoned: The Dirty Truth about Your Food” is a documentary based on the book by journalist Jeff Benedict.
One of the key players highlighted in the film is Seattle-based attorney Bill Marler of Marler Clark.
“The Jack in the Box case allowed me to sort of find a passion of helping people and that I could see policy changes,” said Marler.
The 1993 outbreak sickened more than 700 people across several states, mostly in Washington, and killed four young children.
The microscopic culprit was later discovered to be E. coli O157:H7, a strain that wasn’t required to be reported to health departments at the time, when it sent children to emergency rooms in Western Washington.
“You had highly contaminated frozen patties and then you had a restaurant that was undercooking them,” said Marler.
Marler represented hundreds of victims of the 1993 outbreak, some of them who were severely injured with brain injury and kidney failure.
Marler won $50 million in damages for victims and wide-spread changes in the food industry followed his litigation, including The Food and Drug Administration raising the recommended internal temperature for hamburgers cooked in restaurants to 155 degrees, safe food-handling labels and E. coli 0157 being declared an adulterant in raw ground beef.
“Before litigation, meat suppliers could knowingly sell E. coli-contaminated meat to the public,” said Marler. “Now the fact that the government said you can’t sell it with E.coli in it was the big change.”
Since the 1993 outbreak, Washington DOH made changes to how they investigate, track and communicate foodborne illnesses.
Still, the CDC estimates foodborne illnesses sicken 48 million Americans, sending 128,000 people to hospitals and kill 3,000 people every year.
Numbers that Marler says are unacceptable.
While he says E.coli cases linked to hamburger have dropped significantly at his law firm, foodborne illnesses still keep him busy.
“So many times, companies that are making food sort of stop thinking it’s food. They think about it as a commodity. They don’t think about it as something that’s going to go into someone’s body or their child’s body,” said Marler. “They tend to think about profits and getting things onto the market and they tend to push food safety kind of away.”
Which is why Marler continues to advocate for food safety legislation, which has since included the Food Safety Modernization Act passed in 2011 and he hopes those who watch “Poisoned” will follow the film’s call to action.
“You can make change,” said Marler. “It’s just a matter of getting consumers to put enough pressure on their legislators and the industry to make the changes that are necessary to make our food supply safer.”
Netflix has not announced an official streaming date for “Poisoned,” but the documentary will make its Washington premiere on July 2.
“Poisoned” will be screened at Lynwood Theatre on Bainbridge Island.
A Q & A with author Jeff Benedict and Bill Marler will happen immediately following the screening.