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California film workers file suit in hepatitis A case

March 27, 2006

The Produce News

Joan Murphy

Los Angeles County health officials implicated lettuce in a hepatitis A outbreak on a movie set late last year, and now the law firm Marler Clark has filed lawsuits against a caterer and a lettuce distributor on behalf of sickened film crew members.

Workers on the set of "The Good German," a film starring George Clooney and Cate Blanchett, filed a lawsuit against Silver Grill Location Catering and Soleil Produce Inc., said the Seattle-based law firm. According to the suit, Soleil Produce supplied the pre-packaged baby greens on the California film set.

"Contaminated lettuce has been the source of a number of foodborne illness outbreaks over the last five years," said R. Drew Falkenstein, an associate at Marler Clark. "The foodservice industry is aware of the risks associated with fresh produce and needs to do more to protect its consumers."

Los Angeles County saw a major spike in the number of hepatitis A cases for the last four months of 2005, including the catered event where 19 people were infected and a restaurant where 13 people fell ill.

"These outbreaks highlight that all produce can be responsible for transmitting hepatitis A and other diseases, such as E. coli and Salmonella, unless it is washed well before it is consumed," Los Angeles Public Health Department's Jonathan Fielding said late last year when the outbreak was discovered. "All produce, even those that come pre-packaged and labeled as having been washed, should be rinsed in cold running water."

Lettuce has come under increasing scrutiny from federal health officials in the wake of several high-profile outbreaks, and the produce industry has responded with a new guidance document that supplies practical advice on enhancing lettuce safety.

The Food & Drug Administration has urged the produce industry to educate businesses about safe handling practices.

The Produce Marketing Association, Western Growers Association and United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association will host a one-day training seminar March 29 for local grower-shippers, processors and nationwide distributors which handle lettuce and leafy green products on how to follow new safety guidelines.

United's Jim Gorny, WGA's Hank Giclas and PMA's Kathy Means will speak at the seminar in Salinas, CA.

More on this outbreak: Silver Grill Catering Hepatitis A Outbreak

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