The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention year’s declared this year’s largest E. coli O157: H7 outbreak over on June 28.
And that’s true for the disease phase of the outbreak.
But it’s also fair to say no outbreak of foodborne disease is truly over until food safety attorney Bill Marler says its over. That’s because after the illnesses run their course, outbreaks move into the litigation phase. That’s where Marler usually dominates by representing many of the outbreak victims. And this year’s outbreak is proving to be no different.
Romaine lettuce caused this year’s largest E. coli O157:H7 outbreak. Shipments of romaine from Arizona’s Yuma growing region sickened 210 people in 36 states. Five people died and 96 were hospitalized.
William Glasier of Fort Collins, CO, was one of the outbreak victims. He and his wife Kristin Stuntz purchased whole head Romaine lettuce from the King Soopers store at 1842 N. College Ave. in Fort Collins in early April. He began experiencing E. coli symptoms on April 10.
After that, his condition worsened and he was transported by ambulance on April 14 to Poudre Valley Hospital. Blood tests showed he was suffering from sepsis, severe dehydration, and kidney failure. During the first night in the hospital, Glasier had a seizure and his heart stopped. His doctors were able to resuscitate him.
He remained in the hospital for 41 days, tested positive for E. coli O157:H7, and now has permanent kidney damage.
Marler is Glasier’s attorney in a lawsuit filed against King Soopers. Marler represents more than 100 victims of the deadly outbreak. While the root cause of the outbreak is thought to be E. coli contaminated canal water, pinning responsibility isn’t all that simple.
Marler is managing partner of Marler Clark, The Food Safety Law Firm based in Seattle. It is the nation’s most experienced law firm representing victims of E. coli O157:H7 and other foodborne illnesses. It has litigated E. coli O157: H7 and HUS cases stemming from outbreaks traced to ground beef, raw milk, lettuce, spinach, sprouts, and other food products.
He’s formally filed about a dozen lawsuits against various players along the romaine supply chain. The various state and federal jurisdictions involved allow plenty of time for plaintiffs to investigate and bring their cases. It’s the outbreak phase that has only just begun.
Epidemiologic, laboratory and traceback evidence all pointed to romaine lettuce from the Yuma growing region as the likely source of the outbreak. The outbreak strain of E. coli O157:H7 was found in water samples taken from open-air canals in the Yuma growing region.
The Food and Drug Administration continues to investigate, seeking to find out how the bacteria could have entered the waterway and how the water could have contaminated the romaine lettuce. The last shipments of Romaine lettuce from the Yuma region were harvested on April 16, according to growers’ associations.
The same outbreak strain infected in several provinces of Canada.
At a time when almost all romaine lettuce on the market was coming out of the Yuma region, it proved difficult for FDA to track. Consequently, consumers were told to avoid romaine form the Yuma area and were never told what specific grower or growers were to blame.
Since the outbreak, Walmart has announced plans to do business only with leafy greens suppliers using blockchain technology. The large national retailer wants to keep track of every head of lettuce and bag of spinach to better manage product recalls in the future.
Editor’s Note: Bill Marler is also the publisher of Food Safety News.
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