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Article Summary

OFT Food Safety & Injury Lawyers have been retained by multiple clients in connection with a current outbreak of E. coli O157:H7, and have now filed suit in Wisconsin on behalf of a client who developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a potentially life-threatening condition that causes permanent kidney damage. At least some of the cases in the current outbreak have been traced to Fresh Express “Sunflower Crisp” salad kits, and many more are believed to be caused by romaine lettuce grown in the Salinas, California growing region. At least 102 people in 23 states have become ill so far.

If you have become ill after eating the Fresh Express Sunflower Crisp salad kit, please call or contact us using the form on the page for a free consultation.

*This page will update as events unfold*

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Fresh Express Sunflower Crisp Salad Kits and Romaine lettuce have been implicated

E. Coli Outbreaks Tied to Fresh Express Sunflower Crisp Salad Kits and Romaine Lettuce

OFT Food Safety Lawyers have named Fresh Express in a lawsuit filed in Milwaukee County, Wisconsin (2019CV009273) on behalf of a college professor who was infected with E. coli O157:H7 after eating this Fresh Express product. The woman became gravely ill with hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) and was hospitalized for weeks. She took these photos, which have been circulated by public health authorities, after returning home from the hospital:

OFT Food Safety Lawyer Ryan Osterholm spoke with WTMJ News in Milwaukee about the lawsuit, and the interview can be viewed here. The Kenosha News also reported on the case:

“This outbreak is crazy,” Osterholm said. “We don’t know the extent of it. There are a lot of answers we’re going to try to find out about how something like this could happen and contain so many strains of E. coli.

“There are a bunch of different sub-clusters within this large outbreak. It’s not well understood why Wisconsin got hit so hard. Are they just doing a better job of surveillance? We just don’t know yet.”

The Minnesota Department of Health now reports that at least five Minnesotans have been sickened after eating the implicated Fresh Express product.

12/4/2019 UPDATE — E. coli Outbreak Expands to 102 Cases in 23 States

The CDC reports that the ongoing outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 tied to romaine lettuce from the Salinas, California growing region has continued to spread and intensify across the United States:

Individuals have reported illness as recently as November 18, 2019. Wisconsin remains the epicenter, with at least 31 patients.

11/22/2019 UPDATE —FDA Warns Consumers Not To Eat Romaine Lettuce Grown in Salinas, California

Public health officials have traced the multistate outbreak of E. coli to romaine lettuce harvested from the growing region in Salinas, California. Consumers should not eat any romaine lettuce labeled as being from the Salinas growing area. If the lettuce is not marked or its origin cannot be confirmed, consumers should assume it is from Salinas and discard it. It is currently unknown to what extent the contaminated lettuce has infiltrated the supply chain for ready-eat-salad and similar items.

UPDATE — First Recall Notice Issued

On November 21, 2019, the United States Department of Agriculture announced that Missa Bay, LLC, a Swedesboro, N.J. establishment, is recalling approximately 97,272 pounds of salad products that contain meat or poultry because the lettuce ingredient may be contaminated with E. coli 0157:H7. The products subject to the recall are listed on this spreadsheet.

The recalled products bear establishment number “EST. 18502B” inside the USDA mark of inspection. These items were shipped to distribution locations in Alabama, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia and Wisconsin.

A Developing and Dangerous Multi-state Outbreak

On November 15, 2019, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services announced a “significant increase in the number of reported cases of E. coli O157:H7.”  Among the cases were three women from the Eau Claire area in northwest Wisconsin who all were hospitalized and all reported salad consumption.  At least one person in Wisconsin contracted hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a potentially life-threatening condition that causes permanent kidney damage, as part of the outbreak. OFT lawyers are aware of sickened people in the southeast and southwest parts of the state as well.

The outbreak in Wisconsin is connected to a similar outbreak announced this week by the Maryland Department of Health. That cluster includes seven individuals sickened by E.Coli, all of whom reported eating “Ready Pac Bistro Bowl Chicken Caesar Salads” purchased at Sam’s Club.

Leafy greens and other produce items have increasingly been the source of E. coli outbreaks.  For example, in 2018, the Centers for Disease Control linked a nationwide E. coli outbreak, including one person in Wisconsin, to romaine lettuce produced in California.  The outbreak was solved only after advanced genetic subtyping allowed investigators to link all of the cases to lettuce and trace the lettuce to its source.  Information about the 2018 outbreak is here.

OFT’s Food Safety Lawyers weigh in

Wisconsin E. Coli Lawyer Lindsay Lien Rinholen

According to food safety lawyer Lindsay Lien Rinholen, most outbreaks like this are ultimately solved.  “The most important fact that we know so far is that multiple people were sickened in discrete areas over a short period of time.  This gives the health department investigators the epidemiological and microbiological data they need to crack the case.”Lien Rinholen also said that she is not surprised that fresh produce is implicated.  “Right now I represent over 75 Wisconsin residents who were badly sickened from a foodborne illness outbreak last summer linked to vegetables.  So, no, I’m not at all surprised that lettuce and ready-to-eat greens are the source.”

Food safety lawyer Brendan Flaherty

Lien Rinholen and food safety attorney Brendan Flaherty have been investigating the current E. coli outbreak and together worked extensively on the 2018 Romaine outbreak. Flaherty spoke with Emilee Fannon at WKOW News in Madison, Wisconsin about the current outbreak and told her he expects more cases to surface because there’s typically at least a two-week lag between the time tests are done and the time they are reported to the health department.

Flaherty has recovered millions of dollars for clients sickened in these kinds of outbreaks, including a seven-figure settlement for an individual who developed the serious complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).

E. Coli Infections Can Lead to Serious Complications

Up to 10% of individuals suffering from an E. coli infection develop HUS, which is a life-threatening condition. HUS develops about seven days after the first E. coli symptoms appear and when the diarrhea is improving. HUS can cause a person’s kidneys to stop working. If you notice the signs, you should get yourself or loved one to the hospital for treatment right away.

Symptoms of HUS include:

  • Fatigue
  • Frequent urination
  • Loss of pink color in cheeks and lower eyelids

Many people diagnosed with HUS recover within a few weeks with proper treatment. However, HUS can cause permanent physical harm or even death.

Contact us for more information

OFT Law offers free consultations to anybody potentially impacted by the outbreak. We have already filed a Wisconsin lawsuit we believe to be related to this outbreak

Notable Recoveries

$10 million

Seven infants were sickened after consuming a contaminated food product marketed to infants

$6.5 million

Verdict on behalf of a little boy who contracted a severe Salmonella infection from chicken

$7.55 million

Verdict on behalf of a little girl who contracted E. coli at a petting zoo

$2.25 million

E. coli infections contracted from a major fast food chain

$45 million

An over-the-counter medication caused severe kidney damage to multiple users

$3.4 million

A pregnant woman contracted a Listeria infection from contaminated fruit and passed the infection to her child

$3 million

Multistate Cyclospora outbreaks

$275,000

A couple contracted Salmonella from a restaurant

$525,000

A pedestrian was struck by a left-turning car, fracturing her tibia

$700,000

A semi-truck rear-ended a motorcyclist causing a collapsed lung, rib fractures and road rash