WOMEN SICKENED, KILLED BY TAINTED SPINACH
The families of three elderly women who died after eating spinach tainted with E. coli bacteria have reached a
settlement with the companies that grew, packaged and distributed the contaminated greens.
The three women -- Betty Howard, 83, of Richland, Wash.; June Dunning, 86, of Hagerstown,
Md.; and Ruby Trautz, 81, of Bellevue,
Neb. -- were hospitalized and later died of complications that their lawyer said
can be traced back to the E. coli outbreak that sickened more than 200 people nationwide last August and September.
Each E. coli subtype contains a genetic fingerprint that can be identified through DNA testing, and all three of
the women tested positive for the O157:H7 species found in the contaminated spinach, said Bill Marler, a Seattle attorney who represented the women's families.
Terms of the settlement, reached recently with Dole Food Co., grower Mission Organics of Salinas and packager Natural
Selection Foods of San Juan Bautista, are confidential.
Samantha Cabaluna, a spokeswoman for Natural Selection Foods, confirmed the settlement and said Charlie Sweat,
president of the company, met with the women's families.
"Everyone at Natural Selection Foods remains deeply saddened by the human toll of the outbreak," said Cabaluna.
"From the beginning of this, we said we'd try to work as honestly, fairly and expeditiously as possible to resolve these cases,
and we're hopeful that these settlements bring some closure to the families.''
Lawsuits representing an additional 90 victims sickened in the outbreak are pending in 26 states, Marler said.
One in four of those victims lives in Wisconsin, but the outbreak extended to several other
states, including Maryland, Virginia, Maine,
Ohio and New Mexico.
The FDA ordered a nationwide monthlong recall of all packaged spinach from store shelves in September after tracing
the e. coli outbreak to the tainted vegetable.
Investigators later said the spinach was contaminated by feral pigs who tracked manure from a San Benito County beef ranch into nearby fields
where the leafy greens were grown.
E. coli food-borne illnesses, some more harmful than others, afflict some 73,000 Americans each year and are most
harmful to young children and the elderly. Most of the victims in the spinach outbreak were elderly women, Marler said.
Symptoms from E. coli range from diarrhea to acute kidney failure and, in rarer cases, death. There are more than
five dozen deaths each year from E. coli-related symptoms, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control.
On Tuesday, Marler and several E. coli victims will testify before a subcommittee of the Congressional Committee
on Energy and Commerce on the Food and Drug Administration's oversight of the nation's food supply. Marler has been filing
lawsuits related to E. coli since 1993, when a deadly outbreak was linked to undercooked hamburgers from Jack in the Box.
The tainted meat sickened 650 people and killed four young children.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Safety Inspection service has been very effective in dramatically
reducing food-borne diseases in the nation's meat supply by requiring producers to adopt comprehensive precautions and testing,
recent years, most of the food-borne sicknesses stem from problems in fresh produce. Marler said he plans to ask members of
the congressional committee to adopt similar safety practices for produce such as lettuce, sprouts, tomatoes, spinach, green
onions and parsley.