Salmonella Outbreak Could have been Prevented


SEATTLE, WA — Consumers in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska were asked to throw out Harmony Foods brand sprouts last week after several people in Western Washington and Oregon became ill with salmonella infections. Sprouts have been implicated in an increasing number of foodborne illness outbreaks in recent years, and although procedures have been developed to significantly reduce bacterial contamination, not all sprout growers have adopted techniques to decrease the risk of contaminated produce.

In 1999, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced new guidelines for the growing of sprouts, including using calcium hypochlorite treatment on seeds. This treatment exposes seeds to high levels of chlorine, killing bacteria, but leaving seeds unharmed. Since its introduction, manufacturers who consistently used this seed disinfectant treatment have not been implicated in foodborne illness outbreaks. While the FDA cannot require that its guidelines be followed, it declared that, “any product that is not processed using the guidelines will be considered ‘adulterated’ under the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.”

“Since calcium hypochlorite treatment was introduced, no manufacturer who uses this process has been implicated in a foodborne illness outbreak. If Harmony Foods was taking the proper precautions and using this treatment, this would be the first time,” said William Marler, of Marler Clark, the Seattle law firm that has represented over 1,000 victims of salmonella poisoning.

Salmonella is an organism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail, and elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. A small number of people infected with salmonella will develop pains in their joints, irritation of the eyes, and painful urination – a condition known as Reiter’s syndrome. This condition can last for months or years, and can lead to chronic arthritis, which is difficult to treat.

“It amazes me that outbreaks continue to be linked to sprouts even though safeguards have been available for years,” Marler continued. “Victims of foodborne illness suffer tremendously. Companies should take precautions to make sure customers don’t suffer because of their negligence in protecting public health.”

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BACKGROUND: Marler Clark has extensive experience representing victims of foodborne illnesses. William Marler represented Brianne Kiner in her $15.6 million E. coli settlement with Jack in the Box in 1993. In 1998, Marler Clark resolved the Odwalla Juice E. coli outbreak for the five families whose children developed HUS and were severely injured after consuming contaminated apple juice for $12 million. Marler Clark presently represents over 100 victims of Salmonella poisonings in several states.

For more information on salmonella, visit the Marler Clark sponsored Web site about Salmonella, and the Salmonella blog.

More about the Harmony Farms sprouts Salmonella outbreak can be found in the Case News area of this site.