An E. coli lawsuit was filed yesterday against Freshway Foods, the company that recalled its romaine lettuce products after they were identified as the source of an E. coli O145 outbreak among students at The Ohio State University, the University of Michigan, and Daemon College in Buffalo, New York last month.  

In the lawsuit filed by Seattle-based Marler Clark, attorneys allege the Columbus, Ohio, resident the firm represents became ill with an E. coli O145 infection after eating contaminated lettuce distributed by Freshway Foods.

The lawsuit names Freshway Foods as well as the grower and distributors of the contaminated lettuce as defendants.   

The Freshway Foods E. coli Outbreak

romaine-lettuce4-featured.jpgAccording to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at least 19 people who consumed Freshway Foods romaine lettuce have tested positive for E. coli O145.  Test results for samples collected from ten additional probable E. coli O145 cases are not yet available; it takes an average of 2 to 3 weeks from the time a person becomes ill to the time when the illness is confirmed by laboratory testing and reported.  

Patients interviewed by health department investigators reported becoming ill between April 10 and April 26.  Twelve were hospitalized, three with hemolytic uremic syndrome, or HUS–a syndrome that results in hemolytic anemia (destruction of red blood cells), thrombocytopenia (low platelet count), and acute kidney failure.

In a press release, Freshway Foods said the E. coli O145-contaminated romaine lettuce was sold to wholesalers, food service outlets, in-store salad bars, and delis in Alabama, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.  The affected lettuce has a “best if used by” date of May 12 or earlier.  Freshway Foods has recalled all implicated product.  

E. coli O145

E. coli O145 bacteria are Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, or STEC.  Shiga toxin is one of the most potent toxins known to man, so much so that the CDC lists it as a potential bioterrorist agent.  

The STEC serotype most commonly found in U.S. patients is E. coli O157.  Other E. coli serotypes in the STEC group, including O145, are sometimes called “non-O157 STECs.”  Currently, there are limited public health surveillance data on the occurrence of non-O157 STECs, including O145 since many public health labs do not test for non-O157 STECs.

More Lettuce Recalled for E. coli

In the wake of the Freshway Foods E. coli O145 outbreak in romaine lettuce, some affected states began widespread testing of romaine samples. A laboratory in Ohio found another strain of E. coli which led to a very private recall on Friday by Andrew Smith Co.  A spokeswoman for Andrew Smith Co. in Spreckels, Calif., said none of the lettuce was sold in grocery stores and that only two food processors bought the cartons. Health officials determined that the two E. coli O145 recalls are unrelated.