In June of 1999, the Washington State Department of Health (WDOH) and the Oregon Health Division (OHD) independently investigated clusters of Salmonella serotype Muenchen infections among state residents. By July 13, fifteen states and two Canadian provinces had reported 207 confirmed cases of Salmonella Muenchen associated with this outbreak; 91 additional cases had been reported and were still under investigation.
Epidemiological investigations by WDOH, ODH, and other state health departments, in cooperation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), identified unpasteurized orange juice products produced by Sun Orchard, Inc., an Arizona based company, as the source of the outbreak. A genetically indistinguishable strain of Salmonella Muenchen was isolated from Sun Orchard unpasteurized orange juice products, blenders where smoothies were made with the orange juice, and from victims’ stool, thereby confirming the link.
Sun Orchard recalled all of its unpasteurized orange juice products, which had been distributed in a variety of forms to retail stores, restaurants, and other food service institutions, on June 25, 1999. On July 10, 1999, the Food and Drug Administration issued a nationwide warning to consumers against drinking unpasteurized orange juice products distributed under a variety of brand names by Sun Orchard, Inc. due to the continuing reports of illness related to the product.
During the outbreak investigation health officials learned that Sun Orchard had blend unpasteurized orange juice produced in its own plant, that had gone through its own sanitation system process, with containers of unpasteurized orange juice that the company had purchased from a supplier in Mexico. The blended juice from Mexico was eventually identified as the source of the Salmonella infection. A number of shipments of Mexican juice tested positive. The FDA border inspection of the orange juice did not include a test for Salmonella before this outbreak. Sun Orchard testing of the Mexican orange juice prior to the blending process had also failed to reveal the presence of the Salmonella bacteria.
Ironically, Sun Orchard again recalled thousands of gallons of orange juice believed contaminated with Salmonella in November 1999. It was the second recall of contaminated juice in five months.
Marler Clark represented 55 of 80 people who became ill with Salmonella infections in claims against Sun Orchard. The claims were resolved in 2002.