July 22, 2019

Minnesota E. coli Lawyer Lauds State Health Department

Minnesota’s food poisoning investigators had a busy year with outbreaks in 2014, successfully tracing the cause of three separate clusters of E. coli hospitalizations and two waves of Salmonella infections. The efforts undoubtedly protected more people from contracting pathogen-related illnesses and gave victims of the solved outbreaks a chance to hold the purveyors accountable.

Minnesota-E.-coli-LawyerA review by Food Poisoning Bulletin shows that four of the outbreaks had implications beyond the state’s borders, including findings of E. coli O157:H7 in celery that came from the Salinas Valley; E. coli O111 in cabbage purchased by units of a national restaurant chain  and Salmonella Enteritidis in a frozen chicken breast product mass-produced in Illinois for the American retail market.

“The Minnesota Department of Health has been a national leader in disease outbreak investigation for decades and the dedicated scientists in that agency aren’t resting on their laurels,’’ said Fred Pritzker, a Minneapolis-based attorney who represents food poisoning victims from coast to coast.

In mid-July, PritzkerOlsen, P.A., filed the first E. coli lawsuit against Apple Minnesota, LLC d/b/a Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill and Bar arising from an outbreak of toxic E. coli that health officials eventually traced to green cabbage from a supplier outside the state. Minnesota investigators worked with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and discovered cases of illness in at least three other states that matched the outbreak strain of E. coli O111.

More than a dozen Minnesotans were sickened in the outbreak and the Pritzker firm has continued to gather clients. The first lawsuit was filed on behalf of Keith Comstock, who was diagnosed with a painful gastrointestinal infection after eating at the Applebee’s restaurant located in, Woodbury, Minnesota. The suit is being litigated in the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota. As the food poisoning outbreak unfolded, the restaurant chain temporarily pulled Oriental Chicken Salad from its menus and changed ingredient suppliers.

One month later, the Minnesota Department of Health issued a press release that said at least 13 people had developed E. coli O157:H7 infections as part of an outbreak associated with Zerebko Zoo Tran traveling petting zoo. The 13 cases ranged in age from 2 to 68 years and were residents of multiple counties. Seven of the victims were hospitalized and two of those individuals developed a life-threatening complication known as hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).

The petting zoo had exhibited at four locations across the state between July 4 and July 27 and there were cases associated with each event; including seven illnesses associated with the Rice County Fair in Faribault. The state’s investigators collected environmental and animal fecal samples from Zerebko Zoo Tran and found the outbreak strain of E. coli O157:H7. The owner voluntarily withheld his animals from two more events scheduled for August.

Meanwhile, the agency’s epidemiologists also were trying to track the cause of an E. coli outbreak in northern Minnesota, among members of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. Dozens of band members had fallen ill after eating at events on the reservation catered by Jim-N-Jo’s Northland Katering. The team of investigators ultimately determined that the likely cause was contaminated celery served in potato salad and on veggie trays — a finding announced just last month. The celery was traced all the way back to the Salinas Valley and was literally pinpointed to a farm field near Gonzales, Calif. Of the approximately 60 people who closely met the definition of outbreak victim, four lived in Wisconsin, two in Alabama and one each in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. At least one of the Minnesota victims filed an E. coli lawsuit.

Another major finding by the Minnesota Health Department in 2014 was the discovery in October that samples of Antioch Farms brand Raw Stuffed Chicken Breast Breaded, Boneless Breast of Chicken with Rib Meat “A La Kiev” contained the same strain of Salmonella Enteritidis that had sickened a cluster of Minnesotans. The discovery led to a national recall covering nearly 29,000 pounds of the individually wrapped, frozen packets. Both the CDC and USDA were involved in the investigation, which led to national consumer warnings.

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