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F.ood & H.ealth : & P.olitics Last Updated: Nov 12th, 2006 - 20:38:00

Finally, put me out of business, please!
By Marler Clark LLP PS
Sep 20, 2006, 20:50

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Finally, put me out of business, please!
Marler Clark LLP PS
William Marler, Esq.

So, it is happening again, another E. coli O157:H7 outbreak tied to by fresh, pre-washed, ready-to-eat produce from California. This time it is spinach again. As of this morning the numbers are concerning 21 States, 114 confirmed illnesses, 60 hospitalizations, 18 with life-threatening Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS) and perhaps now 2 deaths. The numbers are expected to rise over the next week.

Unfortunately, E. coli outbreaks linked to pre-washed, ready-to-eat spinach or lettuce, sold under various brand names, are nothing new.

July 2002 - more than 50 young women got sick at a dance camp after eating pre-washed lettuce. Several of them were hospitalized, and one suffered permanent kidney damage.

October 2003 - 14 California retirement center residents got sick and 2 died after eating E. coli contaminated spinach.

September 2003 - 40 patrons of a California restaurant chain got sick after eating salads made with pre-bagged lettuce several suffered HUS.

September 2005 - at least 23 where injured in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Oregon as a result of eating DOLE lettuce one little girl suffered acute kidney failure.

June 2006 3 people were confirmed with severe HUS after eating lettuce at a Utah Wendy's one young woman remains on dialysis as she awaits a kidney transplant.

On March 1, 2006, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued additional Guidelines "for the Safe Production of Fresh-Cut Fruits and Vegetables." However, this is not the first time the FDA has warned this industry, with sales nearing $4 billion annually, to clean up its act.

In 1998 the FDA published a "guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards for Fruit and Vegetables." In 2004 the FDA sent a letter to the lettuce and tomato industry to "make them aware of [FDA's] concerns regarding continuing outbreaks and to encourage the industries to review their practices." All of these concerns by the FDA were prompted by fifty-five outbreaks tied to fresh fruits and vegetables between 1990 and 1998.

Following these lettuce and spinach-related outbreaks, the FDA issued a stern warning to the industry in 2005 "to reiterate our concerns and to strongly encourage firms in your industry to review their current operations" In this letter, the FDA cited research linking some or all of the outbreaks to sewage exposure, animal waste, and other contaminated water sources.

Now it has happened again. Now will the industry listen? Now will the industry clean up its act and stop poisoning its customers? Now will the industry put me out of business?

I am a trial lawyer who has built a practice on food pathogens. Since the Jack in the Box E. coli outbreak in 1993, I have represented hundreds of families who were devastated for doing what we do every day - eating food. I am now representing 30 people, mainly children, many with HUS whose only crime was to "eat their spinach." This may prompt some readers to consider me a blood-sucking ambulance chaser who exploits other people's personal tragedies.

If that is the case, here is my plea:

Put me out of business, please.

For this trial lawyer, E. coli has been a far too successful practice - and a heart-breaking one. I am tired of visiting with horribly sick kids who did not have to be sick in the first place. I am outraged with a food industry that allows E. coli and other poisons to reach consumers. So, stop making kids sick and I will happily move on. Here is how:

Use common sense - stop using water that is contaminated with cattle and human feces to irrigate. Provide workers in the fields and factories with adequate restroom and hand-washing facilities, and if they are ill with an infectious disease, do not let them work. Perhaps the industry should also re-examine if mass-produced lettuce and spinach is worth the risk. These simple, common sense steps are good for customers and good for business.

None of this will stop E. coli entirely. This microscopic poison has been around a long time and is bound to pop up again. But these steps will help make our food supply safer, and will enable us to keep our most vulnerable citizens - kids and seniors - out of harm's way.

And, with a little luck, it will force one damn trial lawyer to find another line of work.

© 2004-2005 by unless otherwise specified

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