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A British Columbia boy permanently injured his brain after eating lettuce contaminated with E. coli




The E. coli outbreak was primarily associated with hamburgers, but recalled that in the last decade, contaminated romaine lettuce had been brought from the United States to Canada. At least seven people have died and hundreds have been ill or hospitalized in both countries.

Toddler Lucas Parker was one of them.

In the fall of 2018, his parents, Nathan Parker and Carratery of Richmond, British Columbia, took Lucas and his brother to Disneyland, their first trip outside Canada. But what they didn’t know at the time was that eating a few romaine salads that Lucas ate overnight at a small roadside restaurant in California would change their lives forever.

Immediately after that supper E. coli O157: H7 contamination Spread to both Canada And the United States — eventually 35 people remained hospitalized.

favorite Most people get sick From this E. coli strain, Lucas, then two years old, showed no immediate symptoms. When he began to feel sick, the family went home on a long drive. By the time he was in a Canadian hospital, E. coli shut down one of his kidneys and caused two brain injuries.There is There is no current cure In the case of E. coli, which helps alleviate infections and prevent complications.

Lucas can no longer walk, speak, or see.

“Lucas was just a ray … he was a caring person … a cheeky boy, a loving brother,” said his father, Nathan Parker. “I remember in the hospital he woke up from a coma, looked around, got lost, talked, walked, and didn’t move much. His brain was too swollen and uncomfortable, and there was nothing. It was hell. “

“The most devastating injured human”

Bill Marler, an American lawyer and food safety advocate who has fought for foodcf safety for almost 30 years, represents Lucas and his parents. Mahler filed proceedings on behalf of his family against the restaurants they ate, as well as the lettuce farms and suppliers. The case is currently in the disclosure phase, with a court system slowed down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s the most devastating human being who survived the outbreak of food poisoning,” Mahler said. “The fact that he survived altogether and the fact that his parents take care of him as gently and compassionately as they do is evidence of them.”

Infants and the elderly are at greatest risk of developing serious complications from E. coli O157: H7 contamination.Most people simply experience upset stomach, but some do. Life-threatening symptoms such as stroke, kidney failure, and seizures — And some die.

Bill Mahler, a food safety advocate and lawyer. (David Macintosh / CBC)

Between 2009 and 2018 US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say they identified 40 food-borne outbreaks Reports of infections from this E. coli strain in the United States that have been confirmed or suspected to be associated with leafy vegetables.

Mahler says he believes it is due to a society that values ​​cows and convenient bag lettuce.

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Canada has been hit by a number of romaine lettuce recalls. We set out in the United States, where most of the leafy vegetables come from, and delved into why E. coli outbreaks continue to plague our food supply. Meet a BC family whose life has changed forever with a contaminated salad. 12:51

Cow proximity

Most of the romaine lettuce that can be eaten in North America comes from lettuce grown in areas such as Salinas Valley, California and Yuma, Arizona. Many of these romaine lettuce fields have cows nearby.

“Everyone knows where E. coli O157: H7 came from — it comes from cows,” Mahler said. “And with 100,000 feedlots, dirt roads, canals, and leafy vegetables as much as you can see, rocket scientists don’t need to understand what happened.”

FDA He says he is working to deepen his understanding How leafy vegetables are contaminated, and recent FDA reports suggest that cattle near farmlands and water sources may be part of the problem. FDA survey revealed Cow dung found uphill from a crop field FDA findings from the 2019 outbreak, which may have contributed to the fall 2020 outbreak. “suggest A potential factor was the proximity of the cows to the crop fields... “

Mahler says nearby cows may be responsible for the outbreak of E. coli. (Sergey Bogdanov / Shutterstock)

E. coli O157 lives in the intestines of healthy cows And can be found in other animals, and in water or soil contaminated with animal feces.

Romaine lettuce that made Lucas sick Santa Barbara, California, Farm that may have been Contaminated water source.. It’s not exactly how the water was polluted, but the FDA later saidExtensive wildlife activity“And quoted adjacent land use by nearby cows and horses.”E. coli O157: could have been a reservoir for H7.. ”

The FDA has not created new rules for lettuce producers, but produce producers to prevent pollution by increasing buffer zones with nearby cattle and use the other proposed strategies contained therein. Seeking in 2020 Leafy Vegetables STEC Action Plan, Assessing risks to water sources and creating stronger traceability records.

John Bolts, a lettuce farmer based in Yuma, Arizona, said that not only is food poisoning very rare, but farmers like him are more than the FDA requires to keep food supplies safe. Say you’ve already done that.

“Recent peasant practices are noteworthy not only for mine, but for everyone in my business,” Boltz said. “Today I think we are doing everything humanly possible.”

Like many lettuce farmers, Boelts independently tests the irrigation water around the fields to keep the irrigation water out of contact with the edible parts of the crop.

Boelts says he has also taken steps to keep the animals away, but he doesn’t think the cattle feedlot near the fields is a problem.

“The feedlot existed in the 1930s and 1940s, and we’ve been producing leafy vegetables in the area for that long,” Boelts said. “If there really was a problem, it would happen more often.”

Mahler says a bag of salad that spreads pollution

Mahler claims that a convenient bag of salad helped spread the contaminated lettuce. One head of E. coli-contaminated lettuce can be cut, processed, mixed with other lettuce, and then intercontaminated with various packages of salad in bags.

“The outbreak of E. coli associated with romaine lettuce and other leafy vegetables has exploded in the last decade and a half because we wanted a bag of salad,” he said. “We wanted to go to the grocery store. The restaurant wanted to prevent someone from chopping the lettuce behind. They just wanted to open the bag and throw it into a salad bowl. I thought … Industrialized agriculture, convenience, and that’s killing us. “

Lawrence Goodridge, a food safety professor at the University of Guelph in Ontario, agrees that the majority of E. coli lettuce outbreaks occur in bagged salads. E. coli outbreaks are actually very rare, but he says there are some things consumers have to do, starting with avoiding pre-packaged salads.

“To reduce the risk of developing food poisoning, consumers need to buy the entire lettuce head and then remove the outer leaves,” says Goodridge. Consumers also need to thoroughly wash the inner leaves. Purchasing head lettuce and washing it thoroughly does not eliminate the risk of E. coli, but Goodridge says it can help mitigate it.

Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) Says it can use several means To assess whether romaine lettuce imported from the United States is safe for Canadians to eat. CFIA has taken the following steps: Improving Canadian Safety Last FallThe importer had to show that the lettuce did not contain E. coli or came from the Salinas Valley of California. These measures are not intended for lettuce in Yuma, Arizona and are now expired. The CFIA says it will reassess the rules later this year.

In Mahler’s view, the outbreak will continue to occur if the source of pollution is not addressed.

“These outbreaks will continue to occur in the United States as well as Canada, unless we address the environmental pollution caused by growing lettuce near cattle,” he said.

Lucas Parker is now close to 5 years old. He can no longer walk, speak, or see. (David Macintosh / CBC)

Lucas Parker is now almost five years old. All his meals are liquefied and taken through a tube in the stomach.

“I ordered a salad. I thought I was doing the right thing, do you know?” Lucas’ father said. “And because it broke down somewhere, it turned out to be the most deadly mistake in the world.”

He does not believe that enough people are aware of the potential dangers of E. coli-contaminated romaine lettuce.

“I want people to know that what you know should never be taken for granted.

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