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Wappinger Central Student Lawsuit Spotlights Rise in E. Coli Cases

According to the Poughkeepsie Journal, E. coli outbreaks are on the rise. Though there are only a handful of confirmed cases each year in Dutchess Country, former student Caitlin Holt’s lawsuit against Wappingers Central School District after a 2010 outbreak brings light to potential dangers within the U.S. food system. 18-year-old Holt was hospitalized for kidney damage, and is suing her former school district for medical costs and alleged pain and suffering. “We will ask [the jury] to send a message to the food industry, that their lax follow-through on food processes and failure to follow the appropriate rules to protect everybody from food-borne illnesses will not be tolerated in Dutchess Country,” said Holt’s lawyer, Andrew Finkelstein. Nationwide E. coli outbreaks have become more widespread and are more frequently linked to fresh produce. At the same time, school cafeterias are not fulfilling federal requirements to be inspected twice a year. Despite the Child Nutrition Act mandate, 33% of New York’s schools were not in compliance during the 2010-2011 school year, according to the Department of Agriculture. Holt’s diagnosis, shiga toxin-producing E. coli, is a leading cause of bacterial infections in the nation. The Department of Health says that gastrointestinal illness causes 100,000 illness, 3,000 hospitalizations, and 90 deaths a year. The companies that allegedly grew, supplied, distributed, and served the food in question deny they are responsible for Holt’s illness. Texas-based Sysco Corp., California-based Andrew Smith & Co., and Ohio-based Freshway Foods are co-defendants in the lawsuit. Holt ate a chicken wrap at Roy C. Ketcham High School in April 2010 that had E. coli-tainted lettuce, according to documents filed by her lawyer. She was one of at least 27 confirmed illnesses in three states, including four confirmed cases in Wappingers Central. The outbreak, which allegedly caused bloody diarrhea and permanent kidney damage in severe cases, prompted national recalls of lettuce by Freshway Food and Andrew Smith & Co. Holt has not spoken to the media about the E. coli incident; however, she has become an advocate for food safety and has publicly prompted the “Click, Check, and Protect” website (http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/customer-service/email-service/e-mail-newsletters/click-check-protect.htm), through which Consumer Reports distributes various product recall notices. “I just want other people to have a way to check in on things and be able to know that what they are eating is safe or what they are using is safe,” Holt said in December 2010. It is the responsibility of establishments serving food to the public to follow FDA established safety and cleanliness protocols (http://www.fda.gov/). If you believe that you or a member of your family has been sickened because of a violation, please contact Finkelstein & Partners immediately.