Marine recruit sues meat provider claiming exposure to E. coli at boot camp led to medical condition disqualifying him from military
A Marine recruit who became ill after exposure to E. coli at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, last year, and suffered kidney failure and seizures as a result of his illness, has filed a federal lawsuit against a food manufacturer saying its negligent handling of food cost him an opportunity to serve in the military.
The lawsuit against Maryland-based Sodexo Inc. claims Vincent Grano’s epilepsy diagnosis and ongoing seizures led to his discharge from the Marine Corps on June 29, 2018. Epilepsy is a disqualifying condition for military service.
Grano’s lawsuit accuses Sodexo of not complying with regulatory provisions related to the manufacture, distribution and sale of food. It also states Sodexo violated state, federal and local safety regulations in manufacturing and distributing the food and was negligent in its food preparation and not living up to its corporate guidelines which include making sure its food does not contain E.coli.
Grano, 19, of Lake in the Hills, Ill, filed his lawsuit in U.S. District Court in San Diego on July 30. In it, Grano seeks $500,000 from Sodexo.
The lawsuit states Grano, who was at boot camp training to become a Marine, was a day from his final challenge — known as the Crucible — when he fell ill. The E.coli outbreak occurred in October and affected more than 300 Marine recruits at MCRD and Camp Pendleton who were treated at local hospitals in late October and early November.
Following the outbreak, preventative medicine units at Naval Medical Center San Diego and Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton inspected all mess halls for cleanliness, food storage, and handling procedures. Food samples were sent for testing at the U.S. Army Public Health Command at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas.
Later, investigators from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention inspected the recruits’ barracks, bathrooms and cafeterias where meals were served to 2,000 to 3,000 recruits at one time. They identified two strains of E. coli. Investigators found the recruits’ exposure to the bacteria came from under-cooked ground beef served to them in their cafeterias, the lawsuit states, citing the CDC report.
More than 200 recruits were affected by Shiga toxin-producing E. coli food products prepared by Sodexo Inc, the lawsuit states. Fifteen recruits developed a life-threatening complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). Six of the fifteen recruits, including Grano, became critically ill. All have survived.
“Environmental findings, including reports from recruits, showed that Sodexo Inc.’s employees routinely undercooked ground beef served to recruits, and only intermittently checked the temperature of foods, including ground beef, using an appropriate thermometer,” the lawsuit states, citing the report. “Moreover, the environmental investigation showed a number of instances of temperature abuse involving other foods.”
Enrico Dinges, director of public relations for Sodexo, said Friday, Aug. 3, that his company is aware of the lawsuit and the CDC report but said the report “did not conclusively determine or identify the source of the E. coli.”
“It is important to note that Sodexo is a recognized industry leader in food safety and quality assurance making the safety, health and wellbeing of our clients and customers the number one priority,” Dinges said in an email. “Sodexo proudly serves nutritious, healthy and delicious meals to millions of customers every day in North America.”
Grano arrived at MCRD on Aug. 7, 2017 and became sick on Oct. 23. He initially reported painful stomach cramps, nausea and vomiting, according to the lawsuit. When he began to have bloody diarrhea, he told his senior drill instructor and was taken to the emergency room by paramedics. He was discharged the same day. Three days later, after losing consciousness, he woke up at the Balboa Naval Medical Center.
Grano was transferred from Balboa Medical Center to Alvarado Hospital in December to begin rehabilitation. In February, he was diagnosed with epilepsy as a result of his HUS illness. He has also suffered permanent damage to his kidneys, the lawsuit states.