Lawsuits filed in Washington state E. coli outbreak as agricultural inspectors launch investigation

Top Seattle food safety attorney Bill Marler has filed two lawsuits involving an E. coli outbreak.

The move comes as state health officials acknowledge there could be more cases linked to yogurt from an Eastern Washington dairy farm, Pure Eire Dairy.

The outbreak has already sickened 11 people, many of them children, across King, Snohomish, Benton and Walla Walla counties.

Marler representing one family who bought the yogurt from PCC in Issaquah. Both their sons, ages one and three, got seriously ill.

“Both hospitalized, one had developed acute kidney failure,” Marler said.

The lawsuit says the three year old got so sick, he needed “treatment including a transfusion.”

Marler is also representing another family who bought PCC-brand yogurt in north Seattle in the View Ridge neighborhood. Their daughter spent two weeks at seattle children’s and was just discharged a few days ago.

But the lawsuit says, “her symptoms are ongoing, and recovery is uncertain.”

The suit alleges Pure Eire Dairy “was negligent in the manufacture, distribution, and sale of a food product that was adulterated with E. coli O157:H7, not fit for human consumption.”

Inspectors with the state’s Department of Agriculture visited Pure Eire Dairy in Othello on Monday to collect samples of the yogurt as well as other items produced there, like pasteurized and raw milk and even conduct environmental swabs.

“Pasteurization typically takes care of issues like this. we don’t know what happened here,” said Hector Castro, a spokesperson with the Washington State Department of Agriculture. “It can definitely be challenging narrowing down exactly what may have caused a particular situation to arise,” Castro said.

“What the inspectors want to do is look at every step of the process involved in the production of these products, look for areas of concern, some steps where contaminants can get in,” Castro said.

The yogurt is PCC’s Organic Grass-fed Yogurt in all flavors sold in 8 oz and 16 oz sizes. It was also sold in the store’s salad bar, as well as in several other prepared foods: Butter Chicken and Spicy Yellow Curry Chicken found in the hot bar and casseroles; the store’s Tzatziki Sauce in the grain bowl bar and to-go spreads; and PCC’s Sticky Toffee Pudding, sold in the refrigerated desserts section. All of the items were recalled Friday and people can return items for a full refund.

The Department of Health said Monday that it expects more cases. Identifying cases can take two weeks or even more, from collecting samples to going through the testing and sequencing process.

“It’s probably the tip of the iceberg, to be honest,” Scott Lindquist, State Epidemiologist for Communicable Diseases, said. “I mean, you think about it— a lot of people just get diarrhea. What does it take for you to go to your clinician with diarrhea? ... it’s going to take us a couple weeks to find all the cases that are still in the pipeline.”

The Washington state Department of Agriculture said it can take several days to complete an inspection. Pure Eire Dairy will need to demonstrate it has a plan for addressing any concerns that the state inspectors identify.

“The fact that Eire Dairy is a small, local dairy, and its Jersey Cows are ‘Certified Organic, Non-GMO Project Verified, Animal Welfare Approved, Completely Grass-fed, and free of the A1 Beta Casein,’ is all well and good, but it is not a substitute for food safety,” Marler said.

“These parents thought by purchasing this product at PCC they were doing something right for their kids, they never imagined that it would contain a pathogen, like E. coli O157, that would nearly kill their children,” added Marler.

KIRO7 reached out to Pure Eire Dairy on Monday evening but did not hear back in time for this story.