HALF MOON BAY, Calif. (FNS) -- A 16-month-old Colorado girl who drank apple juice products has died from multiple organ failure triggered by an E. coli bacteria infection, marking the first death in an E. coli outbreak that has sickened dozens of people in western states.
While Anna Gimmestad of Evans, Colo., had consumed Odwalla juice, tests results to determine if the strain of the bacteria that killed her matched the strain found in Odwalla juice samples that tested positive for E. coli in the Seattle area were still not available several days after her death. Blood samples were being tested by the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.
The Food and Drug Administration has taken samples from Odwalla's production facilities, but has not found the bacteria that is related to the outbreak in those samples.
The only direct link to Odwalla juice is a contaminated 16-ounce bottle purchased in Seattle. Officials are moving to inspect apple growers to determine if the contamination was caused by fertilizers or irrigation systems.
Meanwhile, Odwalla, based here, reintroduced three of its juices which had been voluntarily recalled after reformulating them to eliminate apple juice. Other juice manufacturers moved to reassure the public of the safety of their products, and health officials noted the E. coli outbreak raised questions about the safety of fresh, unpasteurized juices in general.
Greg Steltenpohl, Odwalla chairman, issued a statementexpressing the company's sorrow at the death of the child. He had visited the girl's family and the families of other victims of the outbreak earlier in the week.
The girl's mother told newspapers that the family did not intend to bring a lawsuit against Odwalla. Two suits have been filed in the wake of the outbreak, by the family of a six-year-old Seattle boy and by a San Francisco lawyer claiming to represent the public.
Odwalla began shipping three reformulated juices Nov. 8. The products are Strawberry C Monster, Serious Ginseng and Mo' Beta. Those three contained a low percentage of apple juice, making the reformulation easier, said the company.
"Until we are assured of a completely safe and reliable method of producing apple juice, we will not include it in our juices," Steltenpohl said.
In a move apparently related to the outbreak, the maker of TreeTop apple juice ran a full-page ad in the San Francisco Chronicle assuring the public its juice is safe because it is pasteurized.
Supermarkets in the Bay area posted signs near fresh juice cases noting the products in those cases had not been involved in the recall.
Meanwhile, health officials have expressed concern about increased possibility of E. coli contamination in produce-related products.
"This case raises policy issues at the national policy level. We're probably going to have to look at what kinds of incentives or sanctions we need in the future," said Carl Osaki, director of the Seattle-King County department of environmental health, in a press report.
One concern, Osaki noted, is organic produce that may be fertilized with cow manure which hasn't been adequately sterilized.
Odwalla has formed an advisory council of experts in scientific, regulatory and academic fields to advise the company about the issue.
"We pledge to lead the effort to insure consumer safety for the fresh fruit and juice industries," said Stephen Williamson, Odwalla chief executive officer.
Odwalla recalled 16 juices from 4,600 retail locations Oct. 30 after the first E. coli cases were detected in the Seattle area. Odwalla juices are distributed in Washington, Oregon, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas and British Columbia.