LOS ANGELES – Three former Marine recruits who were sickened in a foodborne illness outbreak in 2017 are suing the foodservice provider, Gaithersburg, Maryland-based Sodexo Inc., for allegedly serving undercooked food that was contaminated with Shiga toxin-producing E. coli.

Lawyers for Tristan Abbott, 19, of Haskell, Saline County, Arkansas, filed court documents on Aug. 24. Michael Baker, 21, of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and Vincent Grano, 19, of Lake Hills, Illinois, filed similar complaints against Sodexo on Aug. 8 and Aug. 3, respectively. The three men were among 244 male recruits at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD) and Camp Pendleton, both in San Diego, California, sickened by E. coli after eating food prepared by Sodexo employees.

In a statement to MEAT+POULTRY, Sodexo said “We are sorry to hear that several Marine recruits became seriously ill last October at the Marine Corp Recruit Depot and Camp Pendleton. Since then, we have been in the process of learning all the facts about the situation. We are continuing to seek a complete understanding of the source of their illness, as the CDC report does not conclusively determine or identify the source of the E. coli.”

The three complaints state that 15 recruits developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a type of kidney failure, and six of the 15 HUS patients became critically ill. The three plaintiffs were hospitalized with HUS and later were discharged from the Marine Corps.

An investigation by the Dept. of Defense found “…a statistically significant association between ill recruits and the consumption of undercooked ground beef.” The investigation confirmed the presence of E. coli O157:H7 and E. coli O26.

“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,” court documents state. “Moreover, the environmental investigation showed a number of instances of temperature abuse involving other foods.”

Abbott fell ill on or about Oct. 24, 2017, according to court documents. He suffered bloody diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and other symptoms, but he continued with his duties as a Marine recruit.

On or about Oct. 26, he was taken to Camp Pendleton for additional exercises and training and his illness progressed. On Oct. 29, Abbott and another recruit were taken to a hospital where Abbott remained until Oct. 31. Court documents state he was taken by ambulance to Scripps Encinitas Hospital where he was diagnosed with HUS.

Abbott remained hospitalized until Nov. 29, 2017. “During this time, Mr. Abbott developed neurological symptoms characterized by involuntary twitching of his head, arms and legs,” court documents state. He was unable to continue his military training and received a medical discharge from the Marine Corps on April 27, 2018.

Baker was hospitalized for two months because of his illness, according to court documents, and sustained permanent damage to his kidneys. Grano was discharged due to a seizure disorder caused by HUS and was diagnosed with epilepsy on Feb. 13, 2018.

Abbott, Baker and Grano are seeking unspecified damages and attorneys’ fees for their injuries.

Updated to reflect statement from Sodexo.