Attorney for E. coli victims: Organic strawberries or milk could be source

Bill Marler, a food safety attorney, is representing three children sickened in the latest E. coli outbreak. He said there are at least 11 cases statewide, including patients in King, Snohomish and Walla Walla counties.

The Washington State Department of Health is using genome sequencing to determine if the cases are linked.

Marler talked to the parents of three children who got sick, including a 1-year-old and 3-year-old. Young children have less variety in their diets, making it easier to focus on a source. Marler said all three children had organic strawberries and organic milk. Two of the children are siblings. The two families are not connected. One little girl was expected to be released from Seattle Children’s Hospital on Friday.

“What I’ve found so far is there seems to be a connection between organic dairy and organic strawberries,” Marler said. “That might not be ultimately what it is, but when you have essentially 25% of the ill people, it’s starting to make me concerned that we’re getting close.”

It wouldn’t be the first time strawberries were linked to an outbreak.

In 2011, strawberries sickened 15 people in Newberg, Oregon. Two of them died. It was discovered deer droppings were the source of the contamination.

Marler said he is confident the local and state health departments are getting close to identifying the source. They are interviewing parents of the victims, going through grocery store receipts, credit card records, working to find where the parents were and what they purchased before their children got sick.

In the meantime, he urges parents to wash fresh produce thoroughly, and maybe even hold off on feeding it to young children until the source of the E. coli is discovered.

“I don’t think it’s a problem right now for the very young and very old to avoid fruits and vegetables for a week or so,” Marler said.

He added that he thinks it is possible that organic milk is the source. Even though it is pasteurized, he said, it is possible that cross-contamination is happening afterward.

Marler also wrote in Food Poison Journal that the outbreak may be linked to a dairy company.

Friday evening, KIRO 7 learned Pure Eire Dairy announced it was voluntarily recalling all of its yogurt products due to possible E. coli contamination.

The company said it was contacted by the Washington State Department of Health because there might be a possible link between its Pure Eire and PCC brands and possible E. coli contamination.

“We are awaiting further testing information. However, out of an abundance of caution, we are voluntarily recalling all of our yogurt products and halting yogurt production until further investigations are conducted,” a company spokesperson said.

Retailers selling the products are asked to pull the company’s yogurt from inventory and halt sales.

Customers who have the yogurt on hand are being advised to stop consumption.

According to Pure Eire Dairy, the Washington State Department of Agriculture pulled 12 random yogurt samples from various store shelves and all came back negative for E. coli. However, the dairy company is still awaiting further investigation.

The Washington State Department of Health is expected to have more information on the outbreak in the coming days.