The E. coli outbreak unraveling now in the European Union, centered primarily in Germany, is setting new records for both the number of affected persons and the number of persons diagnosed with Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS), a serious complication from E. coli infection (HUS can lead to kidney failure, brain damage and death). As of the writing of this blog, the latest news can be read here and here. To date, 17 people are believed to have died, 470 people have been diagnosed with HUS, and 1,534 people have been infected with E. coli.

The strain of E. coli is reported to be E. coli O104:H4, a previously rare strain of shiga toxin producing E. coli. The source is still a mystery, but many believe it to be associated with fresh produce.

How is this relevant for U.S. food businesses? At the very least, the European Union outbreak changes the equation for liability exposure. Previously, most food safety experts would opine that about 10% of those infected with a shiga toxin producing E. coli would be expected to develop HUS. In the European Union outbreak, the percentage of HUS cases now exceeds 30%. In even a small outbreak, a 30% HUS rate could increase exposure threefold.

Now is the time to:

  1. Convene your coverage team (brokers, risk management and legal) to reevaluate and audit coverage,
  2. Reevaluate your suppliers and food processing procedures,
  3. Revise and clarify your supply chain/co-packing agreements, and
  4. Rehearse your recall, RFR and crisis management plans.