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Illinois E. coli poisoning attorneyThere are a wide variety of foodborne illnesses that affect people in the United States. Typically, food poisoning occurs because harmful bacteria, viruses, or toxins are present in foods that are made available to consumers, including items sold at grocery stores, dishes served at restaurants, and food products sold or provided at other locations. E. coli is one of the most common foodborne pathogens. It is estimated that 265,000 people in the U.S. are infected with this bacteria every year, and these infections result in 3,600 hospitalizations and 30 deaths.

Shiga Toxin-Producing E. Coli

The most dangerous strains of E. coli produce a substance known as a Shiga toxin, which can cause serious harm to the human body. Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) is often present in the intestines of livestock and other animals, and it may be spread to crops or other plants by these animals. It can also infect food products during the process of packaging, shipping, or preparation.

People who contract an E. coli infection may experience symptoms that involve intestinal distress, including stomach pain and cramps, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Victims may experience a low fever, and in many cases, the illness will run its course within five to seven days. In more serious cases, symptoms can involve severe pain and bloody stool. Children under the age of five, elderly people over the age of 65, and those who have compromised immune systems due to diseases such as HIV or cancer treatments are more likely to experience severe symptoms, and in some cases, their condition may be life-threatening.

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Illinois food poisoning attorneysPeople in the United States are often affected by foodborne illnesses. Even though companies that grow, pack, manufacture, distribute, and sell food products are required to meet certain standards to ensure that these products are safe to eat, some foods still become contaminated, leading to serious cases of food poisoning. Of the many different sources of foodborne illness, E. coli is one of the most common, and over the past several years, there have been dozens of outbreaks that have been linked to lettuce, spinach, and other leafy greens. 

Most recently, an E. coli outbreak resulted in 40 infections and 20 hospitalizations across 19 states between August and October of 2020. The majority of the patients interviewed during an investigation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported eating leafy greens such as spinach or romaine lettuce before becoming infected. However, the CDC was unable to identify a specific source of this outbreak, since the harvesting, processing, and packaging of different types of leafy greens makes it difficult to determine where the original contamination occurred.

Contamination of Leafy Greens

Leafy greens are susceptible to E. coli contamination due to the way they are grown, harvested, and processed. In many cases, animals are raised near where these plants are grown, which may lead to the spread of bacteria to these products. E. coli contamination may also be spread through irrigation or while leafy greens are being harvested and handled. Contaminated products may be included in salad mixes, or cross-contamination may occur in a processing facility, grocery store, or restaurant.

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Illinois food poisoning lawyersThis fall, food poisoning outbreaks have surged throughout the country, including recent E. coli outbreaks. The FDA and CDC have been busy investigating illnesses in this fall’s third multistate outbreak of E. coli. According to the CDC, infections have been reported in six states, with at least 12 people infected and five hospitalized and one-third of all reported cases coming from Illinois. The identified source, however, was distributed to 19 states and Puerto Rico, leaving a large number of people at risk of contracting food poisoning. At Newland & Newland, LLP, we fight for those who have fallen ill to foodborne illnesses as a result of food vendors’ negligence, including products sold in grocery stores across the nation.

The Source of the Outbreak

The recently released CDC notice connects the E. coli outbreak to a brand of romaine lettuce that is sold in grocery stores nationwide, including Walmart. The lettuce is sold under the name Tanimura & Antle, and the recalled lettuce was labeled with a “packed on” date of 10/15/2020 or 10/16/2020. The lettuce was lab tested by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and the outbreak strain was identified in a sample of the company’s single-head romaine lettuce. Illinois holds the highest number of cases, with four recorded. Though the E. coli strain was found in the sampled lettuce, the CDC stated that they were unable to definitively determine whether the Tanimura & Antle romaine lettuce did indeed cause the illnesses. In order to protect consumers, those who have purchased the lettuce have been advised to avoid consuming the product.

Where Does the Bacteria Come From?

E. coli is typically transmitted through the consumption of contaminated foods, such as raw or undercooked meats, raw milk, and particular fruits and vegetables. The bacteria is due to fecal contamination. For fruits and vegetables, such as the lettuce listed above, the contamination is often due to contact with feces from domestic animals or wild animals during the plants’ cultivation. For both meat and produce, contaminated water can also be the culprit. Fecally contaminated water that is used during the food preparation process can lead to E. coli outbreaks upon consumption.

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Jimmy John’s Receives FDA Warning About Contaminated ProduceThe U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sent a warning letter to the sandwich restaurant chain Jimmy John’s, claiming that the franchise has repeatedly purchased adulterated produce. The FDA identified sprouts and cucumbers as the adulterated products and cited five outbreaks of E. coli or salmonella linked to the restaurants since 2012. Though Jimmy John’s removed sprouts from its stores as a precautionary measure, the FDA said the franchise needs to take corrective action to prevent such outbreaks from continuing to occur. E. coli and salmonella infections can be potentially fatal to young children, older adults and people with weakened immune systems.

What Is Adulterated Produce?

Adulterating food normally refers to adding or replacing ingredients in a food product that may cause harm to those who consume it. For instance, a food manufacturer may replace a natural ingredient in its product with an artificial one, which causes people to become sick upon eating it. In the Jimmy John’s case, the E. coli and salmonella are not artificial ingredients but poisonous substances that have contaminated the produce. Though the producer did not intentionally add the contaminants, it still meets the legal definition of adulterated because there is enough of the contaminant to cause harm.

History of Outbreaks

The FDA accused Jimmy John’s of lacking the control mechanisms to prevent it from continuing to purchase contaminated produce. As previously referenced, the FDA cited five recent food poisoning cases:

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Lettuce E. Coli Outbreak Hits U.S. for Third YearThe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 67 people have become sick since Sept. 24 due to E. coli found in romaine lettuce. Consumers are warned to not eat romaine that was grown in Salinas, California, and to avoid purchasing romaine if it does not say where it was grown. According to the CDC, 39 people have been hospitalized, with six of those patients developing kidney failure. Illnesses have been reported across 19 states, including one person in Illinois who was hospitalized. The CDC is still investigating the source of the contamination and whether products from other areas are contaminated.

History of Outbreaks

This is the third consecutive year that the same strain of E. coli has been linked to leafy greens sold in the U.S.:

  • In 2017, 25 people in 15 states became ill with E. coli between Nov. 5 and Dec. 12, with one patient in California dying. The CDC identified leafy greens as the likely source of the outbreak based on patient interviews but were unable to identify a specific type of leafy green that was responsible.
  • In 2018, 62 people in 16 states were infected with E. coli between Oct. 7 and Dec. 4, with 25 of them being hospitalized. Investigators traced the contamination back to a water reservoir for a farm in Santa Barbara, California, which provided romaine lettuce for retailers and restaurants. The CDC was unsure of why there was E. coli in the water supply and in which ways the water contaminated the lettuce.

Lettuce and E. Coli

It is imperative to throw out lettuce that is believed to have been contaminated by E. coli and to sterilize the drawer that it was in. People usually show symptoms from an E. coli infection after three or four days, which commonly include stomach cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea. Scientists and lettuce growers do not know what is causing the continued E. coli contaminations or how to prevent them. Suspected causes include:

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