Personal Injury Newsletter

Just Transparency Newsletter - 2020

Feb. 2020

Tragic Food Poisoning Case Highlights Lax Federal Oversight of Produce Growers

A disturbing Boston Globe Spotlight article points to a passive and chronically understaffed Food and Drug Administration that is needlessly putting consumers who eat leafy green vegetables at risk of serious injury from food poisoning.

The article describes the heartbreaking case of a young Canadian boy left legally blind and unable to speak or move after consuming a small amount of romaine lettuce on a family vacation to Disneyland in October 2018.  The child was struck with the severe case of food poisoning as part of a multi-state E. coli outbreak caused by contaminated romaine lettuce grown in California.

Sadly, he is not alone.  Since 2017, leafy green vegetables contaminated with E. coli has caused nearly 500 documented victims and six deaths in the U.S., according to the article.  Since September 2019 alone four E. coli outbreaks traced to lettuce have caused multiple illnesses in over two dozen states.

Leafy green vegetables – seemingly the paradigm of healthy eating – have become the leading cause of E. coli poisoning.  Yet, in the face of mounting problems with how lettuce is grown and distributed, the FDA has largely remained passive and even protective of food growers, according to the Spotlight article.

The article provides disconcerting examples:

  • The FDA has been slow to investigate or publicize risks associated with the surge in E. coli outbreaks from leafy green vegetables.
  • No farm or distributor has been fined or punished for the seven outbreaks traced to lettuce since 2017, even though federal law prohibits the sale of contaminated foods, and even though three of the outbreaks were linked to a single California lettuce grower.
  • The number of FDA staff monitoring lettuce production is just under nine percent of the staff overseeing beef for the Department of Agriculture (614 FDA field investigators compared to 7,068 workers at Agriculture).
  • The FDA relies almost entirely on voluntary cooperation from the lettuce industry, which, while it has brought about some safety improvements, has fallen drastically short of what is required to protect consumers.

The legal system can provide some measure of protection (but only after the fact) by obtaining monetary damages to compensate those suffering serious injuries from food poisoning.  Food growers, distributors, and retailers all have a legal duty to provide food that is safe to consume.  Massachusetts law protects individuals who become sick due to food poisoning, including compensation for their injuries.  The FDA must and can do better to protect consumers from ever getting infected in the first place from the dangerous toxins that can contaminate vegetables.

Todd & Weld represents individuals harmed by food-borne illnesses.  When food suppliers don’t live up to their responsibility, we at Todd & Weld feel it is our responsibility to prevent this from happening to others.

For more information, please contact Jeffrey Catalano at jcatalano@toddweld.com or 617.720.2626.

Jeff has been selected to the Best Lawyers in America directory for personal injury and product liability litigation (plaintiffs) for six consecutive years (2015-20), and has been designated as one of the Top Rated Lawyers in Medical Malpractice by The Boston Globe and Wall Street Journal.  He has been chosen as a New England Super Lawyer each year since 2009.

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