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New Jersey Lawyers for E. Coli Outbreak, Food Poisoning Lawsuit Cases

Once a food Poisoning outbreak occurs, the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, as well as federal agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), may become involved in an investigation of cases of illness potentially related to the outbreak of E. coli 0157 infection. E. coli infection can cause serious health problems including hemorrhagic diarrhea, and occasionally kidney failure, especially in young children and elderly persons. Transmission is via the fecal-oral route, and most illness has been associated with eating undercooked, contaminated ground beef, swimming in or drinking contaminated water, and eating contaminated vegetables.

New Jersey Food Poisoning Lawyers

E. coli Bad Food Facts

Escherichia coli (abbreviated as E. coli) are a very large and diverse group of bacteria that live in the intestinal tracts of warm blooded animals (predominantly cattle, pigs, goats, sheep, deer, and elk) and humans. The E. coli bacteria do not affect the animals – the animals are merely a carrier for the bacteria.

There are over 700 serotypes of E. coli. The most virulent of these produce shiga toxins and are called “shiga toxin-producing” E. coli, or STEC for short. The most commonly identified STEC in North America is E. coli O157:H7 (often shortened to E. coli O157 ). When you hear news reports about outbreaks of “E. coli” infections, they are usually referring to E. coli O157. If you have suffered these conditions, you should consult with an experienced NJ trial attorney that handles food poisoning cases.

E. coli O157:H7

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) first discovered E coli O157:H7 in 1975, although the bacteria was not implicated in food-borne illnesses until 1982 during an investigation into an outbreak of hemorrhagic colitis associated with contaminated hamburger.
Since 1982, more than 100 E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks have been detected in the United States. In actuality, that number is probably much higher because E. coli O157:H7 did not become a reportable disease (one that, upon detection by a lab, doctor, or hospital – must be reported by law to local health officials) until 1987.

The CDC estimates that every year over 73,000 are sickened, 2000 are hospitalized, and 60 die as a result of E. coli O157:H7 poisoning. Companies that negligently handle or process food must be held accountable to reduce these numbers and protect the public. Full compensation should be awarded to deter unsafe conduct.

How Is E. coli Transmitted?

The vast majority (reported 85%) of all E. coli illnesses are food borne related. Inevitably, infections start when you swallow STEC—in other words, when you get tiny (usually invisible) amounts of human or animal feces in your mouth.

Although most E. coli illnesses are food borne related, a small percentage have been tied to other transmission vehicles such as water, animals, ads person-to-person contact. People have become infected by swallowing lake water while swimming, touching the environment in petting zoos and other animal exhibits, and by eating food prepared by people who did not wash their hands well after using the toilet. Legal investigation of food illness may be necessary to bring the cause to light. Some examples are outlined below.

1. Food borne transmission

The most common food source of the E. coli bacteria is beef. While it can be found in spinach, soft cheeses, unpasteurized milk, apple cider, lettuce and other sources, beef is the source of most reported cases of E. coli infection. Foods are contaminated with E. coli often become that way because the bacteria live in the gut of cattle. Manure may also be a source of infection, because it is often used as fertilizer for growing fruits and vegetables. People who have been sickened from bad food should consult with an attorney to learn about their legal rights and what can be done to fix the problem.

2. Water borne transmission

Several incidents have shown that both drinking water and recreational water (swimming pools, lakes) can serve as transmission vehicles for E. coli bacteria.

The first reported waterborne E. coli outbreak occurred in Missouri in 1989. More than 240 people were infected, 32 were hospitalized, and 4 died. Backflow from a broken water main was thought to be the source of contamination.

In September 1999, a large waterborne outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 infections occurred at a fair in Washington County, New York. Epidemiological investigation revealed that the likely source was un-chlorinated drinking water from a well serving a portion of the fairgrounds. The water was likely contaminated when cow manure seeped into a well after a rainstorm. Of the 781 people infected, 71 were hospitalized, 14 contracted HUS, and 2 died.

3. Animal to person transmission

The transmission of E. coli from animals to persons has been well documented. Several outbreaks have originated in petting zoos, county fairs, and on farms, as shown below.

For example, in October 2004, a large outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 occurred in North Carolina. Of the 108 infected, 20 were hospitalized, and15 contracted HUS. Visits to a petting zoo at the state fair was associated with illness. Environmental samples from the petting zoo yielded E coli O157:H7, with indistinguishable PFGE patterns from the stool samples of infected persons. Persons were found to have become infected after contact with manure and engaging in hand-to-mouth behaviors with sheep and goats in the petting zoo.

4. Person to person transmission

E. coli can also be transmitted by person to person contact, which frequently occurs in daycare centers, hospitals, and nursing homes. Hand washing and strict cleaning guidelines thus become an important issue in preventing such transmissions.

For instance, in August 2000, a daycare facility in Folsom, California was linked to an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak that sickened 5 students. In addition to the students, one parent and a sibling also contracted and tested positive for E. coli O157:H7. The source of the outbreak was a sponge used to wipe down both the changing table and serving table. If you have experienced a similar sickness, you should speak to a NJ personal injury lawyer that handles food poisoning cases.

Who Gets STEC Infections?

People of any age can become infected. Very young children and the elderly are more likely to develop severe illness and hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) than others, but even healthy older children and young adults can become seriously ill.
What are the symptoms of STEC infections?

Symptoms of an E. coli O157:H7 infection typically manifest between 3-7 days after ingestion or contact with the pathogen. Initial symptoms are similar to influenza (the flu) or similar gastrointestinal infections.

Typical symptoms include:

  • diarrhea, watery and/or bloody
  • fever (only in 5-20% of patients [1])
  • irritability
  • fatigue
  • headache
  • vomiting
  • muscle pain
  • confusion

Severe, sporadic abdominal pain and watery diarrhea are typically followed within 24-48 hours by the characteristic bloody stools. By this time, any fever present initially has typically subsided. Symptoms usually end within 5-10 days.

Some people will exhibit no symptoms, while others may not develop bloody diarrhea but exhibit other symptoms. About 2-7% of those infected with E. coli O157:H7 develop a severe complication known as hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). HUS is the leading cause of acute renal (kidney) failure in children in the U.S. and is the main health concern when dealing with E. coli O157:H7 infections. HUS mainly affects children under 10 years of age and has a mortality rate of approximately 5% (4).

How Common Are STEC Infections?

Experts think that there may be about 70,000 infections with E. coli O157 each year in the United States. We can only estimate because we know that many infected people do not seek medical care, many do not submit a stool specimen for testing, and many labs do not test for STEC. We think that a similar number of persons have diarrhea caused by non-O157 STEC. Many labs do not identify non-O157 STEC infection because it takes even more work than identifying E. coli O157.

How Can STEC Infections Be Prevented?

  1. WASH YOUR HANDS thoroughly after using the bathroom or changing diapers and before preparing or eating food.
  2. WASH YOUR HANDS after contact with animals or their environments (at farms, petting zoos, fairs, even your own backyard)
  3. COOK meats thoroughly. Ground beef and meat that has been needle-tenderized should be cooked to a temperature of at least 160°F/70˚C. It’s best to use a thermometer, as color is not a very reliable indicator of “doneness.”
  4. AVOID raw milk, unpasteurized dairy products, and unpasteurized juices (like fresh apple cider).
  5. AVOID swallowing water when swimming or playing in lakes, ponds, streams, swimming pools, and backyard “kiddie” pools.
  6. PREVENT cross contamination in food preparation areas by thoroughly washing hands, counters, cutting boards, and utensils after they touch raw meat.

Businesses that handle food must follow these basic rules. When they do not, the public is placed at risk. When injury or sickness occurs, civil legal action is necessary to compensate the injured and deter the unsafe food handling practices that resulted in personal injury.

Information About Hiring an Attorney or Lawyer Concerning E. coli Outbreak or Food Poisoning in New Jersey

Our New Jersey injury attorneys are experienced in investigating food poisoning and E. coli cases in the New Jersey and New York area. Our law firm has lawyers licensed to practice in both New Jersey and New York.

Food poisoning lawsuits arising from E. coli outbreak will involve an area of the law called negligence and products liability. The law provides that where an item of food or drink intended for human consumption is sold, an implied warranty is imposed on the seller that the item is fit for human consumption and free from any harmful or unwholesome substances, when it leaves the seller’s control. UCC 2-314; Hohn v. South Shore Services, Inc., 529 N.Y.S.2d 129 (2d Dep’t 1988); 86 NYJur2d Products Liability § 129 at 517; 90 ALR4th 12 Foreign Substance in Beverage § 2[a] at 22; see also England v. Sanford, 561 N.Y.S.2d 228 (1st Dep’t 1990), aff’d 78 N.Y.2d 928, 573 N.Y.S.2d 639 (1991).

A seller is under a duty adequately to prepare, inspect and package its food product, and failure to take these precautions establishes a prima facie case of negligence. Bissonette v. National Biscuit Co., 100 F.2d 1003, 1004 (2d Cir.1939). In certain situations, independent proof of its unfitness for human consumption is not even required. Vamos v. Coca-Cola Bottling Company of New York, Inc., 627 N.Y.S.2d 265, 269 (N.Y.Civ.Ct.1995) (batteries in soft drink bottle); Ryan v. Progressive Grocery Stores, 255 N.Y. 388 (1931) (pin in bread); Barrington v. Hotel Astor, 171 N.Y.S. 840 (1st Dep’t 1918) (mouse in meat); Stark v. Chock Full O’Nuts, 356 N.Y.S.2d 403 (App.Term, 1st Dep’t 1974) (walnut shell in cheese); Gay v. A & P Food Stores, 240 N.Y.S.2d 809 (Civ.Ct., Bronx Co.1963) (worm in corn); Trembley v. Coca-Cola Bottling Co., Inc., 138 N.Y.S.2d 332 (3rd Dep’t 1955) (mouse in Coke); Mitchell v. Coca-Cola Bottling Co., 200 N.Y.S.2d 478 (3rd Dep’t 1960) (insect in Coke); Perez v. Glens Falls Coca-Cola Bottling Co., Inc., 291 N.Y.S.2d 198 (3rd Dep’t 1968) (thread-like leafy substance in Coke); Lore v. De Simone Bros., 172 N.Y.S.2d 829 (Sup.Ct., Richmond Co.1958) (bone in salami); see also Chysky v. Drake Brothers Co., 235 N.Y. 468, 472 (1923) (nail in cake). Our New Jersey layers have successfully handled a number of products liability and negligence lawsuits on behalf of people injured by defective and unsafe products, including bad food cases.

The service of food in a restaurant is a sale. And a restaurant which sells the food to its customers warrants that the food will not be foul, including absent of E. coli infection. The sale of food in a restaurant fits within the definition of the implied warranty of merchantability. A restaurant serving or a store or market selling E. coli infected food may be found strictly liable under the law to E. coli infected patrons. The buying, selling and distribution of food to the public, is a highly regulated field. New Jersey’s Food and Drug Act, N.J.S.A. 24:1-1 to 24:21-53, sets forth the standards and guidelines governing the sale and distribution of food. N.J.S.A. 24:5-1 provides: “No person shall distribute or sell, … any food, … which under any of the provisions of this subtitle is adulterated….” It further defines adulterated food as follows: “If it bears or contains any poisonous or deleterious substance which may render it injurious to health … If it falls below the standard of purity, quality or strength which it purports or is represented to possess.” The sale of food is also considered the sale of a product and a restaurant or store that serves E. coli infected food can also be held strictly liable under New Jersey’s Product Liability Act.

No matter how you become ill with E. coli, contact your doctor at once. Then, contact the experienced food poisoning lawyers at the Clark Law Firm, PC at 877-841-8855.
Those responsible for making you ill with E. coli should be held responsible. At the Clark Law Firm, PC we take every measure to insure victims get compensated for medical costs, pain and suffering, lost wages and any other related expenses- this way society is spared from having to foot the bill. We will vigorously protect your rights and in the process make the community safer.


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