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Strict liability and breach of warranty claims filed in an Ohio state court in July 2008 after an E. coli outbreak linked to ground beef sold by Nebraska Beef sickened at least 19 in that state have been removed to federal court. Schlagel v. Nebraska Beef, Ltd., No. 08-01091 (S.D. Ohio, removed November 17, 2008). The named plaintiff of this putative class action is a 4-year-old girl, who allegedly “suffered serious physical and emotional injuries.” The proposed class would include “All Ohio claimants who have suffered personal injury caused by Nebraska Beef’s contaminated E. Coli 0157:H7 meat.” The contamination led to the recall of more than 5 million pounds of meat. The company has reportedly denied the allegations and challenges the suitability of the case for class treatment. See Product Liability Law 360, November 18, 2008.

A University of Arizona scientist has reportedly warned the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that more than 40 percent of prepackaged meats sampled in 2006 tested positive for Clostridium difficile, an intestinal bug usually associated with hospitals and nursing homes. In addition, Professor of Veterinary Science J. Glenn Songer apparently found that 30 percent of the contaminated meats carried a highly toxic strain of C. difficile that is also resistant to drug treatments. He warned that not only is this disease difficult to trace to its source, but it survives most forms of sterilization, including cooking. “These data suggest that domestic animals, by way of retail meats, may be a source for C. difficile for human infection,” Songer told MSNBC.com, which reported on the emergence of the superbug in supermarket products like ground beef, turkey and ready-to-eat summer sausage. Yet, “There are no documented cases of people getting Clostridium…

The UK Soil Association has reportedly urged veterinarians to limit their penicillin use after health officials found that cows from one unidentified English farm are carriers of extended-spectrum betalactamase (ESBL) E. coli, a rare antibiotic-resistant strain of the disease. Although the organic watchdog noted that the government has asked the farmer and his family to follow strict hygiene procedures, regulators have not placed any restrictions on the movement or sale of the infected herd. “The government often calls on doctors to prescribe antibiotics less often. But similar advice needs to be given to veterinary surgeons and farms,” stated a policy advisor for the Soil Association, which, as of 2009, will also no longer certify organic farms that treat their livestock with a class of antibiotics known as cephalosporins. See FoodProductionDaily.com, November 19, 2008.

The Produce Safety Project of the Pew Charitable Trusts has issued a report following its review of the government response to this summer’s Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak that affected thousands of consumers in many states and was never definitively linked to a source, although tomatoes and jalapeno peppers were alternately blamed. Citing specific examples of confusing, uncoordinated and poorly planned communiqués from multiple government agencies, the report calls for more post-mortem study of the government’s response to clarify its shortcomings and inform future efforts. Noting that federal agencies pointed to tomatoes as the cause of the outbreak, but that no contaminated tomato was ever found, the Pew report suggests that the error not only failed to adequately protect consumers but also cost the agricultural industry millions in losses and could have long-term impacts as consumers lose confidence in the safety of “fresh produce in general and fresh tomatoes in particular.” The…

A California appeals court has determined that a misreading of prior case law led a trial court judge to erroneously overturn a jury verdict in favor of a plaintiff who alleged that she was made ill from exposure to campylobacter at defendant’s restaurant. Sarti v. Salt Creek Ltd., No. G037818 (Cal. Ct. App., 4th App. Dist., Div. 3, decided October 27, 2008). So ruling, the court reinstated $725,000 in economic damages and $2.5 million in noneconomic damages and allowed the plaintiff to recover her costs on appeal. The trial court granted the defendant’s motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, after determining, under a heightened causation standard, that reasonable inferences alone cannot prove a food poisoning case. The appeals court exhaustively analyzes the court’s reasoning in Minder v. Cielito Lindo Restaurant, 67 Cal.App.3d 1003 (1977), and shows how the court in that case misread prior case law “to preclude the use…

According to researchers in Australia and the United States, those who persistently eat red meat may be more susceptible to E. coli infection. Apparently, the meat contains sugar molecules, Neu5Gc, that accumulate in cells lining the intestines and blood vessels and act as a “magnet” for E. coli toxins. The scientists reportedly tested the affinity of the bacteria for Neu5Gc in a lab dish and noted, “The human samples showed the presence of the Neu5Gc toxin binding sites in the gut and the kidney, the two target organs for the disease.” Then, they confirmed the results with genetically modified mice that have the gene which produces Neu5Gc suppressed. The research appears in Nature, but was not available when the Update was prepared. See The Australian, October 30, 2008.

A GAO report has claimed that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “examined less than 1 percent of the 7.6 million fresh produce lines imported from fiscal years 2002 through 2007.” “Moreover, FDA acknowledged that it has not yet been able to conduct certain fresh produce work crucial to understanding the incidence of contamination of produce by pathogens such as E. coli O157:H7 or Salmonella,” according to GAO, which attributed the failures to a lack of resources for either extramural research grant programs or internal research agendas. The report also noted that the agency “has no formal program devoted exclusively to fresh produce” and has not “reliably tracked its fresh produce spending. “What I found most interesting is that fresh produce has been a priority for FDA for nearly a decade, but all the initiatives the agency said it needs to implement to improve its oversight efforts have been delayed because…

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