Date: Sun, 10 Dec 2006 20:58:53 -0800
From: "Maureen Reilly" <[email protected]>
Subject: Sludge Watch ==> Quieres Taco Bell? Muchos stories about
Taco Bell food contamination
To: "Sludgewatch " <[email protected]>
Message-ID: <[email protected]>
Content-Type: text/plain; format=flowed; charset="iso-8859-1";
My two favorite factoids from the Taco Bell stories today:
1. The same spring onion supplier was involved in an outbreak in 2003 of
Hmmm....must be sewage involved in that one, no? I don't believe cow poo
has hepatitis. Not even
the reigning favorite - wild pigs - carry hepatitis. Only humans carry and
transmit hep A.
2. Half of all Americans have eaten at a Taco Bell once in the past month!
Dirty little secret on our veggies
Columnist Carman writes that with dozens of people in six states stricken
with E. coli food poisoning apparently from eating green onions at Taco
Bell, and with three other cases of E. coli reported in Boulder County, she
can't help but look at those scallions suspiciously.
Sue Jarrett, a small farmer in Wray was cited as saying the farm community
is in a lather over this E. coli outbreak, especially coming so soon after
the spinach debacle in September and that her best guess was that E. coli
was getting on vegetables via waste from some big livestock operations
contaminating the water.
Jarrett was further cited as saying that sprawling dairy farms are using
flushing systems to clear manure, and the water can run off into streams or
nearby fields, carrying bacteria with it, adding, "I've never tied 0157 to
dairy cattle so much as beef, but dairy operations are changing a lot, so
Marion Nestle, a molecular biologist who teaches nutrition, food science and
public health at New York University and the author of "What to Eat," was
cited as saying that what's happened with spinach and green onions was no
surprise to anyone familiar with the food industry, adding, "It was a
disaster waiting to happen."
Nestle was further cited as saying that dairy farms have moved into
California's central valley in a big way, and the cows are being fed grain
and soybeans instead of grass, adding, "That promotes the growth of bad
bacteria," including E. coli O157.
Nestle said the tremendous financial losses after two recent outbreaks of
food poisoning surely will provide incentives for cleaning up the process,
she said, but in the meantime, buy local as much as possible to avoid the
industrial farm processing and wash all produce thoroughly.
***It's the coli of money - $100m+ in taco suits***
Leela de Kretser of the New York Post, a paper not known for subtle
headlines, observed that "droves of Taco Bell customers sickened allegedly
in the E. coli outbreak have rushed to sue, leading lawyers to predict green
onions could cost the company hundreds of millions of dollars. As I said in
part to her:
"In many respects, it looks exactly like the spinach outbreak that happened
in September," said lawyer William Marler, adding that he represents 20
(actually nearly 100) victims of the outbreak.
Marler, who has handled E. coli cases for nearly 15 years, said he
represented (over 100) clients who sued another Mexican restaurant chain,
Chi-Chi's, in 2003 after contracting the bacteria from green onions. "This
is a lot like déjà vu," said Marler, who said Chi-Chi's used the same
supplier as Taco Bell.
The lawyer said mandatory testing of fresh produce for E. coli could
eliminate such outbreaks. He noted that tests ordered by the U.S. Department
of Agriculture had virtually eliminated E. coli in hamburger beef.
More important than lawsuits, the Post points to the growing number of ill
people, some with serious complications - "authorities reported at least 221
cases in New York state and at least 58 in New Jersey." There are also cases
reported in at least four other States.
A lawsuit can do two things well, it can compensate victims based upon the
severity of their injury and it can focus an industry's attention by holding
its feet to the fire. However, as I point out in by op-ed and post below, it
takes more than lawsuits to make the changes necessary to protect the public
and tho protect the industry from itself - again.
Green onion op-ed
In an opinion piece this morning entitled "Sickened by Fresh Produce" the
Editorial Page of the New York Times has weighed into the produce fields and
found them contaminated too often with E. coli O157:H7.
"The expanding outbreak of E. coli poisonings in New York, New Jersey and
several other states underscores the need for more rigorous regulation of
the whole supply chain for fresh produce, from the growing fields to the
customer. It is outrageous that fresh vegetables, typically deemed a vital
component of a healthy diet, have become a menace because of contamination
in their handling..
What's troubling is the recurrence of such outbreaks in recent years.
Contaminated meat used to be deemed the big threat, but strict regulation
and strong industrial efforts have reduced that risk considerably."
The Times editorial writer is correct. E. coli in meat is down and down
substantially. A recent report (2005) released by the CDC, in collaboration
with the FDA and USDA showed important declines in foodborne infections due
to common bacterial pathogens in 2004. From 1996-2004, the incidence of E.
coli O157:H7 infections decreased 42 percent.
In my law practice I have seen these statistics in action. From the Jack in
the Box outbreak of 1993 until the 19 million pounds of hamburger recalled
by ConAgra in 2002, nearly 100 percent of my clients, mostly kids who had
suffered or died from an E. coli illness, had contracted E. coli infections
from eating hamburger. E. coli cases tied to hamburger still do exist, but
most of the E. coli cases we see now have been tied to consumption of fresh
vegetables such as sprouts, spinach, lettuce, parsley, and now green onions.
I guess the meat industry took my challenge in 2002 when I argued on the
editorial page of the Denver Post to "Put me out of business - Please."
Although I would like to think that the nearly $250 million I have taken
from the food industry has changed behavior, I do not think that is entirely
accurate or fair. In thinking about why the meat industry has been
successful in poisoning consumers less and getting sued by me less I
recalled an article entitled "The Bug That Ate The Burger - E. coli's
Twisted Tale of Science in the Courtroom and Politics in the Lab" by Emily
Green of the Los Angles Times from June 2001.
What we need is Michael Taylor, who was head of USDA's Food Safety
Inspection Services during and after the Jack in the Box outbreak in 1993,
when 650 people were sickened and 4 children died. According to the Times
Taylor's first move was legal. Invited to speak at an American Meat
Institute conference in San Francisco, he announced, "To clarify an
important legal point, we consider raw ground beef that is contaminated with
E. coli O157:H7 to be adulterated within the meaning of the Federal Meat
Inspection Act." What the day before had been a naturally occurring
bacterium now had outlaw status, the same as glass or rodent filth. It was a
signal, says Taylor, that "things were going to be different and there was
going to be accountability."
Taylor did not stop there.
Businesses that lagged behind were strong-armed by yet more Taylor
legislation: mandatory implementation of HACCP (pronounced "hassip," Hazard
Analysis Critical Control Point), a risk management system developed for
NASA. In came carcass washes, citric acid treatments, steam pasteurization,
air exchange systems and all manner of sterilizing treatments. All U.S. meat
processors now either contract routine services of a lab or have an in-house
So, bring back Michael Taylor or, at a minimum, make it clearer that E. coli
O157:H7 on fresh produce is an "adulterant" and that there is "zero
tolerance" for this nasty bug to be on the produce that we consume. The
produce industry must willingly or by regulation institute comprehensive
HACCP to assure restaurants and consumers that produce is safe.
Lettuce, spinach, and green onions should not kill you. They should not
cause kidney failure. The produce industry must do what the meat industry
has done. Frankly, there have been too many produce outbreaks already.
According to Bloomberg News the number of sick people may well be over 200.
To the produce industry - don't let the "bug that ate the burger" eat your
business. Protect yourself from yourself, clean up your act, stop poisoning
your customers, and you too will "put me out of business - please."
Bill Marler is the managing partner in the law firm Marler Clark L.L.P.,
P.S. Since 1993, Mr. Marler has represented thousands of victims of E. coli,
Salmonella, Hepatitis A, Listeria, Shigella, Campylobacter and Norovirus
illnesses in over forty States.
Food poisoning lawsuits against companies responsible for introducing E.
coli-contaminated food into our food supply have become the focus of Bill's
professional career as an attorney. Bill's first client sickened by E. coli
O157:H7 was nine-year-old Brianne Kiner, who fell ill after eating a
contaminated hamburger during the now-infamous Jack in the Box E. coli
outbreak in 1993. Bill negotiated a $15.6 million settlement for Brianne's
injuries, a record in the State of Washington for personal injury cases. He
resolved several other cases from the Jack in the Box E. coli outbreak for
over $2.5 million each.
Bill, now known as the "E. coli lawyer," has since represented thousands of
people sickened or killed in outbreaks of E. coli O157:H7 and other
foodborne pathogens, including Salmonella, Hepatitis A, Shigella,
Campylobacter, Norovirus, and Listeria. In 1998, he negotiated a reported
$12 million settlement for the families of children who fell ill after
drinking E. coli-contaminated apple juice sold by Odwalla; and in 2001, a
jury awarded the families of eleven children Bill represented $4.6 million
for the injuries they received during an E. coli outbreak traced to school
lunch served at Finley Elementary School in Finley, Washington. He also
resolved dozens of E. coli cases in 2003 related to one of the largest meat
recalls in United States. Bill recently settled an E. coli case for a young
girl for $11 million.
Bill is currently representing half of all victims from the recent spinach
E. coli case and has represented hundreds of those injured after consuming
contaminated produce over that last five years. He filed suit against Taco
Bell yesterday in Pennsylvania Federal Court and has been contacted by over
20 others sickened by E. coli in this most recent green onion outbreak.
E. coli cases reveal flaws in U.S. oversight: FDA says budget cuts have led
to fewer produce inspections
Luladey B. Tadesse
Recent outbreaks of deadly E. coli in spinach and a strain that has sickened
more than 100 at Taco Bells in six states has, according to this story,
exposed a weakness in the government's oversight of the nation's farmers and
Ed Kee, vegetable extension specialist at the University of Delaware
Cooperative Extension, was quoted as saying, "A lot of the chain stores have
protocols that they ask the farmers to follow. But I don't think there is a
routine inspection of E. coli on vegetable crops at all."
The story notes that while the outbreaks linked to produce have increased,
the Food and Drug Administration's funding for inspectors has been cut,
agency officials said Friday.
Since 2003, the number of field inspectors in the United States has dropped
11.5 percent, from 2,217 to 1,962, according to the FDA's budget documents.
John Lord, professor and chair of the Food Marketing department at Saint
Joseph's University in Philadelphia, was quoted as saying, "From a consumer
point of view there is going to be a lot more skepticism about the safety
and integrity of our food supply that the industry is going to have to
Last year, as part of the Produce Safety Action Plan, the FDA began
providing technical assistance to the food industry by developing guidance
on five commodities: cantaloupes, lettuce and leafy greens, tomatoes, green
onions and herbs. These commodities account for more than 80 percent of the
foodborne outbreaks associated with produce because they are eaten raw and
without processing to reduce or eliminate pathogens.
In 1998, the FDA and U.S. Department of Agriculture issued what is commonly
referred to as the "Good Agricultural Practices" guide aimed at helping
farmers develop standard operating practices to minimize the exposure of
their produce to unwanted microbes.
Some of these recommendations address how and when animal manure is used as
a fertilizer on fruits and vegetables and the importance of farm worker
hygiene. There are also guidelines for preparing the produce for
transportation to major distributors.
The story goes on to say that FDA and other food experts are looking into
possible regulations that could increase inspection and testing throughout
the process, but failed to mention specific plans when asked last week. They
are uncertain how much regulation and testing is needed, at what stage to
test, and whether it will be effective.
Jeff LeJeune, assistant professor of the Food Animal Health Research Program
at Ohio State University, was quoted as saying, "The last thing we need to
do is make some regulations that are not based on science that say, 'You
need to do A,B,C that will cost you $5,000 per shipment, but we don't know
if it will do any good.'"
LeJeune and others also doubt whether more testing at the farm level makes