E. Coli Litigation

A resource for E. Coli Outbreak Legal Cases sponsored by Marler Clark

Cross-ContaminationView Outbreaks

Cross-contamination can spread E. coli to ready to eat foodsCross-contamination is the transfer of harmful bacteria, such as E. coli, from one food to another food, cutting board, utensil, or other surface, like a person’s hands. This transfer occurs when foods containing E. coli bacteria are handled improperly, and is especially dangerous when a person handles raw meat products, which can be contaminated with E. coli. Cross-contamination can occur when food contact surfaces and equipment are poorly maintained, or when people preparing food fail to follow proper hygienic practices and hand washing techniques.

In 2008, at least 341 people became ill with E. coli O111 infections after eating at the Country Cottage buffet restaurant in Locust Grove, Oklahoma. Public health investigators from Mayes County, the State of Oklahoma, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were unable to determine how E. coli bacteria were introduced into the restaurant, but epidemiologic findings indicated that food became contaminated with E. coli either by “food handlers or by cross-contamination from food preparation equipment, counter surfaces, or storage areas...”

In 2002, the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) and Wayne County Health Department (WCHD) investigated an E. coli outbreak among several Wooster, Ohio, residents. ODH and WCHD identified eleven culture-confirmed and two probable cases of E. coli O157:H7, all of whom were infected with a genetically indistinguishable strain of E. coli. The two agencies learned that all ill individuals, mostly children, had eaten at King Garden buffet restaurant in Wooster before becoming ill. After an extensive investigation, WCHD and ODH officials determined that Jell-O was the source of the outbreak. More specifically, they concluded “the likely source of E. coli O157:H7 in the Jell-O was [cross-contamination] from meat juices dripping on the Jell-O while it was solidifying in the refrigerator.” See King Garden Buffet E. coli Outbreak Lawsuits.

In 2001, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) investigated an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak among Douglas County residents. MDH traced the outbreak to the consumption of food products served at the China Buffet restaurant in Alexandria, Minnesota. Five people were confirmed ill with E. coli infections, and all were hospitalized. During a site inspection, MDH inspectors noted cross-contamination as a concern. After a subsequent inspection when improper hand washing was noted, the restaurant was closed for three days for the failure to prevent cross-contamination. MDH concluded its investigation of the E. coli outbreak, and stated, "Due to the opportunity for cross-contamination, multiple contaminated dishes could have resulted from a single contaminated product." See China Buffet E. coli Outbreak.

In 2000, an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak was traced to cross-contamination between ground beef and multiple other food items at a Wendy’s restaurant in Salem, Oregon. Inspectors from the Marion County Health Department (MCHD) found several food-handling problems that likely resulted in E. coli’s cross-contamination to other foods. Wendy’s employees had soaked lettuce in the same sink that was used to rinse pans in which raw hamburger patties were held without cleaning and sanitizing the sink between uses. Staff had also used a dry towel to wipe a shelf holding raw hamburger patties, then used the same towel for hand wiping in the grill area and the sandwich assembly area, where raw products were placed on cooked burgers. These opportunities for cross-contamination of E. coli were accompanied by an observance of poor hand washing practices. In total, MCHD identified 35 confirmed and presumptive E. coli cases associated with this outbreak caused by cross-contamination. See Wendy’s E. coli Outbreak Lawsuits - Oregon, 2000.

Also in 2000, a large E. coli O157:H7 outbreak was traced to two Milwaukee Sizzler restaurants. The Wisconsin State Department of Health (WSDOH) ultimately identified 551 probable cases, and another 122 possible cases of E. coli. Dozens of people were hospitalized; four developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, and one person died. An indistinguishable strain of E. coli was isolated from case-patients, samples of raw chunky taco meat, and sirloin tri-tips at one sizzler restaurant. This meat was manufactured by Excel Corporation, then remanufactured at the local Sizzler restaurants according to procedures defined by Sizzler USA. WDOH concluded that watermelon was the vehicle for infection, and that it had been cross-contaminated with raw sirloin tri-tip, which was prepared in close proximity to the ready-to-eat food preparation areas. See Sizzler E. coli Outbreak Lawsuits.

Cross-contamination can occur at various points from farm to fork. To prevent cross-contamination, follow these steps:

Cross-contamination can spread E. coli at restaurants
  • While shopping, cross-contamination can occur when meat juices drip on other food items. This can also happen in the refrigerator, and it is always recommended that meat be stored below ready-to-eat foods, in sealed packages that will not leak.
  • All foods should be marinated in the refrigerator, not on the counter. Sauce that is used to marinate raw meat should not be used on cooked foods, unless it is cooked to a high enough temperature to kill E. coli and other bacteria before it is added to ready-to-eat foods, such as cooked meat.
  • To prevent cross-contamination between foods, use separate cutting boards for fresh produce and raw meat products. When cutting boards become excessively worn or exhibit deep grooves, they should be replaced to prevent cross-contamination.
  • When preparing food, wash hands and other surfaces often. E. coli bacteria can spread throughout a kitchen and contaminate multiple surfaces if hands, utensils, cutting boards, and counter surfaces are not properly cleaned.
  • When serving food, always use a clean plate. Do not place cooked food back on the same plate or cutting board that previously held raw meat or other foods.
  • Store leftovers within two hours in clean, shallow, covered containers. Rapid cooling of leftovers prevents bacterial growth.
  • Burma Superstar E. coli Outbreak

    Between Friday, August 23 and Monday, August 26, 2013, the San Francisco Department of Public Health Communicable Disease Control Unit (SFDPH CDCU) received eight reports of laboratory-confirmed Escherichia coli (E. coli) O157 infection in unrelated San Francisco residents.  This number of reports represented a marked increase over the background incidence of E. coli O157 in San Francisco of less than 1 case per month.  The eight reports were received from three clinical laboratories.  Case-patient residences were geographically dispersed throughout San Francisco but suggested moderate to high socioeconomic status.  CDCU initiated standard follow-up interviews with all case-patients.  While no common exposures or demographic characteristics were immediately apparent, cases tended to be younger, salad-eating, local-market shoppers.  Marler Clark represents two children who developed HUS and two adults.

  • China Buffet E. coli Outbreak

    Marler Clark’s E. coli attorneys represented a woman who became ill with an E. coli infection and nearly died during a 2001 E. coli outbreak in Minnesota.  The firm’s attorneys were able to link her illness to an E. coli outbreak among customers of the China Buffet restaurant in Alexandria, Minnesota. 

  • King Garden Buffet E. coli Outbreak Lawsuits

    In 2003, Marler Clark represented the families of five children who became ill with E. coli O157:H7 after eating E. coli-contaminated Jell-O at a buffet restaurant in Wooster, Ohio. 

  • Robinswood Pointe E. coli Outbreak Litigation

    Marler Clark represented the family of a woman who became ill with an E. coli O157:H7 infection and hemolytic uremic syndrome and died after being infected while living at Robinswood Pointe.  Public health investigators believe the woman and others’ illnesses were caused by cross-contamination.

  • Sizzler E. coli Outbreak Lawsuits

    Marler Clark represented over a dozen individuals who became ill with E. coli infections - some with hemolytic uremic syndrome - after eating at two Milwaukee Sizzler restaurants in 1998.  The E. coli lawyers represented victims at trial and on appeal.

  • Wendy’s E. coli Outbreak Lawsuits - Oregon, 2000

    Marler Clark’s E. coli lawyers represented fifteen victims of the Wendy’s E. coli outbreak in claims against the restaurant chain, including two young boys who developed HUS and will suffer life-long complications related to their E. coli infections.  The claims were resolved in late 2001 and early 2002.