May 14th, 2010
03:55 PM ET

Lettuce recall: Dr. Sanjay Gupta digs deeper

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed that at least 23 people in four states have been sickened after eating Romaine lettuce contaminated with E.coli bacteria. The company that distributed the lettuce, Freshway Foods, has voluntarily recalled its products and told CNN it has been cooperating fully with public health officials to track the source of the outbreak. The lettuce was sold to wholesalers, food service outlets, delis and salad bars; no E.coli has been found in the bagged lettuce you can buy in the grocery store.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta sat down with attorney Bill Marler to talk about food safety. Marler, a Seattle, Washington, attorney who specializes in representing victims of foodborne illness, is representing a client in the new lawsuit against Freshway Foods.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta: You and I have talked about these issues over the years. What concerns you the most about this?

Bill Marler: Well, I think one of the big concerns is that we are seeing a new form of pathogenic E. coli hitting the market. This particular outbreak is E.coli 0145 just as deadly as the E.coli we hear about a lot, the 015787. But I think one of the big concerns is that we are seeing a new bug coming after us in the marketplace.

Gupta: A few years ago we went to one of the hardest hit outbreaks in recent years. The thing that you really impressed upon me at that time Mr. Marler, is this idea you have animals sometimes contaminating crops, you have a lot of natural occurrences that naturally can lead to food being contaminated. First of all, have things been improved since then? And can you really prevent that sort of thing from happening?

Marler: Well, I think the industry - many parts of the industry - have done a remarkable job. We certainly are not seeing the large-scale 200-250 sickened in outbreaks. We still see three or four sometimes five spinach or lettuce outbreaks yearly, and they are much smaller. This particular outbreak appears to be emanating from Arizona and this is the first time that there has been a leafy green outbreak in Arizona. So there are a lot of moving parts that I think we will learn a lot of over the next several months.

Gupta: Is it the FDA, the food maker, when you say somebody has to compensate? Who's going to compensate?

Marler: Ultimately it will be the grower, the shipper and the manufacturer of this particular lettuce. They have a responsibility to a consumer to do the absolute best they can to get animal feces out of their food products. And that obviously didn't happen here. Twenty-three states are recalling products. There are at least 23 people sick, probably a lot more because not very many lab tests for E. coli 0145.

See the full interview with Bill Marler on “Sanjay Gupta M.D.,” Saturday and Sunday at 7:30 a.m. ET.

Filed under: Food Safety

soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. Jacquie Dutton

    Dr Gupta: I want to thank you not only for covering the lettuce recall, but also your excellent description of Ishemic Stroke. I watched these stories while in the hospital in St, Paul, MN for treatment for a dissected carotid artery-nearly a stroke–that I incurred after 7 hours of severe vomiting after eating CAFETERIA LETTUCE on Friday. The FDA is currently investigating my case in Minnesota. Fortunately, I caught the FACE symptom of drooping eyelid and mismatched pupils early enough to thwart the stroke, but I've been in the hospital 5 days working on getting enough blood thinner into my bloodstream and controlling the intense headache.

    Keep up the important work,

    Jacquie Dutton, St. Paul, MN

    May 15, 2010 at 07:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Al

    I hope that Marler gets into the factory farming issue of too much waste and no where to put it...hence one of the reasons that animal feces gets into our food. Factory farming is bad for the environment, bad for people and bad for animals. Read the book "Animal Factory,"by David Kirby if you want t more in depth examination as to the reasons why factory farms are killing our communities.

    May 16, 2010 at 12:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Lorna Lineberry

    Another troubling aspect of food safety is the use of pesticides. Pesticides are designed to damage the nevous systems of crop pests but also affect the nervous systems (and more) of consumers, especially young children. A recent studing links organophosphates to ADHD in children. It's great to encourage parents and schools to serve more fruits and vegetables but that should not result in disease or organ damage to consumers, expecially children.

    May 17, 2010 at 19:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Michael Machi

    In order to protect fresh produce supply, we must address vulnerability gaps in our current system at any point along the distribution chain up to the consumer that would allow accidental contamination of fresh produce.

    Ultimately the current USDA/FDA inspection process must be revamped in order to prevent food borne illnesses in fresh produce.

    I spent years as an Executive Vice President for a major terminal business on the East Coast. My primary responsibility was purchasing millions of dollars in California vegetables a year, including Mexico during the winter. I know how this works.

    I notified the CDC in late 2003 that green onions were the likely source of the hepatitis A outbreak and that they were from Mexico, several days before the FDA banned the importation of green onions into the United States.

    If I can be of any further assistance, feel free to contact me at ls40095@gmail.com

    May 21, 2010 at 00:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. joe thornton

    Dr. Gupa, I read your article on google about the five deadly toxins we use everyday and I would like for you to tell me how it is possible to avoid these things. I checked all of my toiletries and also my wife's and i did not find one item that did not have fragrance as a ingredient.
    If you have any information that i can get please let me know how i can obtain it.
    I would also like your opinion on why the CDC , the FDA and our government, cannot find a way to protect us from all of this.
    Thank you

    May 31, 2010 at 11:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Ella Walker

    i love to eat pickled lettuce and also raw lettuce, it really taste great-'`

    September 10, 2010 at 01:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Floating Shelves 

    i can eat raw lettuce and i love the taste of it. Lettuce is also very nutritious`.'

    October 12, 2010 at 12:48 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.