September 2007

Elizabeth Weise and Steve Sternberg of USA TODAY wrote a few moments ago:

Company Expands Hamburger Recall

Topps Meat Company has expanded a recall of frozen hamburgers to 21.7 million pounds of patties because they may be contaminated with a deadly type of E. coli, making it the second-largest ground beef recall in U.S. history. The largest ground beef recall in U.S. history was the 1997 Hudson Foods Company recall of 25 million pounds of ground beef. The third largest was the ConAgra Foods recall of 2002, which covered 19 million pounds of ground beef.

As of Sunday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had identified 25 cases of E. coli O157:H7 in eight states. Three of those illnesses have been linked to Topps products, and 22 are under investigation, according to the USDA. The cases emerged between July 5 and Sept. 9: two in Connecticut, one in Florida, one in Indiana, one in Maine, seven in New York, five in New Jersey, one in Ohio and seven in Pennsylvania.

While this is the first recall in Topps’ 65-year history, it is not the first time the company has had problems with E. coli O157:H7. In 2005, a 9-year-old girl in Glenmont, N.Y., went into kidney failure after being infected with bacteria linked to a Topps beef patty.

Said Seattle food-safety attorney Bill Marler, who settled the case in August.

Impero Food and Meats, Inc. is voluntarily recalling about 65 pounds of ground beef products because it may be contaminated with E. coli bacteria. The company’s president said the meat was distributed to five pizza restaurants in the Maryland area. The company also says the E. coli was found through routine sampling.

Impero Food & Meat Importing
204 Eaton St
Baltimore, MD 21224

Bill Marler, food safety advocate and E. coli attorney, whose Seattle law firm, Marler Clark, has been contacted by five victims of the E. coli outbreak traced to the Topps 21,700,000 pound hamburger recall, called today on Topps to pay the medical bills and lost wages of all individuals who became ill with E. coli infections as part of the outbreak. “We know that at least twenty-five people became ill with E. coli infections after eating Topps hamburger.”  Marler said.  “The cost of treating victims of E. coli infections can run in the tens of thousands of dollars, or in a severe case, even in the hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Marler continued. “These families need Topps to do more than promise to cooperate in the investigation into this outbreak. They need to know that Topps intends to fulfill its corporate responsibility by looking out for its customers.”

Marler noted that in other outbreak-situations companies such as Chi-Chi’s, Dole, Jack in the Box, Con Agra, Odwalla and Sheetz advanced medical costs for outbreak victims whose illnesses were traced to their food products.

Since the Jack in the Box E. coli outbreak in 1993, Bill Marler has represented thousands of E. coli victims against corporations such as AFG, Bauer Meats, BJ’s Wholesale Club, Byerly’s, ConAgra, Cub Foods, Dole, Emmpak, Excel, Finley School District, Fresno Meat market, Gold Coast Produce, Habaneros, Interstate Meats, Jack in the Box, Karl Ehmer, Kentucky Fried Chicken, King Garden, Lunds, McDonalds, Odwalla, Natural Selections, Olive Garden, Peninsula Village, Pat & Oscar’s, PM Beef Holdings, Sam’s Club, Sizzler, Spokane Produce, Sodexho, Supervalu, Taco Bell, Taco John’s, Topps, United Food Group (UFG), Walmart and Wendy’s.  Total recoveries on behalf of victims are in excess of $300,000,000.

Several times a month Bill, through the non-profit outbreakinc, speaks to industry and government throughout the United States, Canada, China and Australia on why it is important to prevent foodborne illnesses.  He is also a frequent commentator on food litigation and safety on marlerblog.  Bill also sponsors several websites related to E. coli, including about-ecoli, about-hus and ecoliblog.

Earlier this year J. Patrick Boyle, President and Chief Executive of the American Meat Institute, wrote in part in the New York Times: “Since 1999, the incidence of E. coli in ground beef samples tested by the Agriculture Department has declined by 80 percent to a fraction of a percent, a level once thought impossible.” At the time I agreed with Mr. Boyle. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, E. coli outbreaks linked to tainted meat declined by 42 percent. But something has changed, and it has not changed for the better.

Here are the facts. A decade ago most of my clients were sickened by E. coli-tainted meat. In fact, between 1993 and 2002 I recovered over $250 Million from the meat industry and restaurants in verdicts and settlements on behalf of those clients, mostly children with kidney failure caused from consuming E. coli-tainted hamburger. And, then it stopped. From 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006 and through the spring of 2007 there were few recalls or illnesses tied to hamburger. I did not sue the meat industry often and I touted it, as a model of what an industry could do that was right to protect consumers.

But then it changed this spring. Since April of this year, nearly 30,000,000 pounds of red meat, mostly hamburger, has been recalled. E. coli illnesses once on a downturn have spiked. Kids are getting sick; seriously sick again. For example, at 2:00 this morning, Topps Meat Company expanded its 300,000-pound recall to include 21,700,000 pounds of ground beef; as of this morning 25 people are sickened in eight states. This recall tops the Con Agra recall of 19,000,000 pounds in 2002 that sickened over forty and killed one and is just under the 25,000,000 pounds recalled by now-bankrupt Hudson Foods in 1997. And, this is not the first time Topps was caught selling E. coli contaminated meat.

Other outbreaks and recalls in the last few months include: (1) six people in Washington, two people in Oregon and one in Idaho who became sick from E. coli-tainted organic beef ground by Interstate Meat. 42,000 pounds of meat was recalled. (2) Thirteen people have been confirmed ill with E. coli infections after eating ground beef produced by United Food Group sold in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming and Montana. Over 5,700,000 pound of meat have been recalled. (3) Tyson Fresh Meats recalled 40,440 pounds of ground beef products due to possible contamination with E. coli. (4) Seven Minnesotans were confirmed as part of the E. coli outbreak that prompted PM Beef Holdings to recall 117,500 pounds of beef trim products that was ground and sold at Lunds and Byerly’s stores. (5) Twenty-seven people have been confirmed ill with E. coli infections in Fresno County. The Fresno County Department of Community Health inspected the “Meat Market” in Northwest Fresno, the source of the outbreak. (6) At least two people were confirmed ill with E. coli infections in Michigan after eating ground beef produced by Davis Creek Meats and Seafood of Kalamazoo, Michigan. The E. coli outbreak prompted Davis Creek Meats and Seafood to recall approximately 129,000 pounds of beef products that were distributed in Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. (7) Three Napa Valley children became sick from hamburger patties sold at a St. Helena Little League snack shack. 100,000 pounds of hamburger (that was a year old) was recalled. And, (8) Several people were confirmed ill with E. coli infections in Pennsylvania after eating E. coli-contaminated meat products at Hoss’s Family Steak and Sea Restaurants, a Pennsylvania-based restaurant chain that purchased its meat from HFX, Inc., of South Claysburg, Pennsylvania. As a result of the outbreak, HFX recalled approximately 4,900 pounds of meat products.

One would think that with hundreds of Americans poisoned that Congress would ask one simple question – “What is going on?” Congress needs to act now. It is time for Congress to accept a leadership role and call hearings, not only to explore the reasons for the past months’ outbreaks, but also to help prevent the next one. Congress must reach out to all facets of the meat industry, from “farm to fork,” to consumers who bear the burden of illnesses, and to academics and regulators to find reasonable, workable solutions to prevent meat-related illnesses. More regulation may not help. Testing all products may not be feasible. More funding for enforcement for the CDC and USDA may not work. And, more funding for university research may also not be the answer. However, getting all to the same table is a start. Congress needs to do the inviting.

Hey, this post made it on to BARFBLOG and Jane Genova’s Law and More.

In June in an Op-ed I warned about the increasing recalls and illnesses tied to E. coli-tainted hamburger and red meat.  Now, according to a press release by Topps:

Topps Meat Company LLC, located in Elizabeth, NJ, has voluntarily expanded its recall announced on September 25 to include 21.7 million pounds of ground beef products that may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7. This represents all products produced by Topps with a “sell by date” or “best if used by date” that falls between September 25, 2007 and September 25, 2008. This information may be found on the back panel of the package. All recalled products will have a USDA establishment number of EST 9748, which is located on the back panel of the package and/or in the USDA legend.

This recall tops the Con Agra recall of 19,000,000 pounds in 2002 that sickened over forty and killed one and is just under the 25,000,000 pounds recalled by now-bankrupt Hudson Foods in 1997.


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As of Friday afternoon, we had been contacted by 4 of the 21 confirmed victims of this most recent Topps E. coli problem.  As some may know this is not the first time Topps product has been implicated in an E. coli illness.  Again, this recall is just a huge example of an increasing problem with ground meat in the USA – prior recalls in 2007 include:

1. A federal consumer alert was issued by FSIS for meat products sold under the brand name “Northwest Finest” after six people in Washington, two people in Oregon and one in Idaho became sick from E. coli O157:H7. The organic beef was ground by Interstate Meat, a national meat wholesaler, located in Clackamas, Oregon. 42,000 pounds of meat was recalled.

2. At least thirteen people have been confirmed ill with E. coli O157:H7 infections after eating ground beef produced by United Food Group sold in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming and Montana. Over 5,700,000 pound of meat have been recalled.

3. Tyson Fresh Meats, Inc. recalled 40,440 pounds of ground beef products due to possible contamination with E. coli O157:H7. No illnesses yet reported.

4. Seven Minnesotans were confirmed as part of the E. coli O157:H7 outbreak that prompted PM Beef Holdings to recall 117,500 pounds of beef trim products that was ground and sold at Lunds and Byerly’s stores.

5. Twenty-seven people have been confirmed ill with E. coli O157:H7 infections in Fresno County. The Fresno County Department of Community Health inspected the “Meat Market” in Northwest Fresno, the source of the outbreak.

6. At least two people were confirmed ill with E. coli O157:H7 infections in Michigan after eating ground beef produced by Davis Creek Meats and Seafood of Kalamazoo, Michigan. The E. coli outbreak prompted Davis Creek Meats and Seafood to recall approximately 129,000 pounds of beef products that were distributed in Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

7. Following reports of three Napa Valley children who became sick from hamburger patties sold at a St. Helena Little League snack shack, 100,000 pounds of hamburger (that was a year old) was recalled.

8. Several people were confirmed ill with E. coli O157:H7 infections in Pennsylvania after eating E. coli-contaminated meat products at Hoss’s Family Steak and Sea Restaurants, a Pennsylvania-based restaurant chain that purchased its meat from HFX, Inc., of South Claysburg, Pennsylvania. As a result of the outbreak, HFX recalled approximately 4,900 pounds of meat products.

The products subject to the Topps original and expanded recall include:

Continue Reading E. coli-tainted hamburger recalled by Topps tops 21,700,000 pounds

The Associated Press and the Belleville Press Democrat have continued to cover eight cases of E. coli infection reported over the past two weeks in Eastern Illinois. Two people have reported ill in Coles County, about 40 miles south of Champaign, and six cases were reported in nearby Effingham County, health officials said. In Effingham County, all six people ate at the El Rancherito restaurant in the town of Effingham, Illinois between Sept. 11 and 13, including a young woman from Effingham who contacted us yesterday afternoon. Full story:

Eastern Illinois officials investigating E. coli cases

Health officials suspect another Eight

Matthew Ralph of the News and Tribune has continued to follow this story:

The number of laboratory-confirmed E. coli cases has reached eight with another eight suspected all from the same group of cases linked to Galena Elementary, health officials said Friday. Dr. Tom Harris, Floyd County health officer, said one of the new cases was an adult connected to Galena, but would not say whether it was a parent or a teacher. He said the additional cases likely received the infection from the first group of E. coli-infected children, but remained optimistic that the outbreak has been contained. The incubation period of the infection is typically up to 10 days.

It will be interesting to see if the outbreak will be tied to food or water served at the school like the Finley outbreak or if it is person to person contact at the school.

Dick Kaukas of the The Courier-Journal has written – 8th case of E. coli reported in Floyd
Cause of outbreak still undetermined

According the Courier-Journal, the number of confirmed E. coli cases in Floyd County has risen to eight, and one of eight probable cases is expected to be confirmed, the county’s chief medical officer said yesterday.  Health investigators are continuing to search for the cause of the outbreak, Dr. Tom Harris said at a late-afternoon news conference.

“Unfortunately, this isn’t TV,” he said. “We won’t have the answer in an hour or two hours. This is detective work. It takes time.”

Now that secondary cases (likely person to person) are happening, I assume health officials will work overtime to get to the bottom of this outbreak – seems like a rewrite of Finley.

MSNBC and AP reports:

USDA finds that Topps’ plant has inadequate safety measures

Federal inspectors said Friday that they suspended the grinding of raw products at the Topps Meat Co. after finding inadequate safety measures at the plant, which is being investigated because of E. coli bacteria-tainted hamburgers that may have sickened 25 people. U.S. Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Amanda Eamich said the suspension follows a safety assessment at the Elizabeth-based company, which this week voluntarily recalled nearly 332,000 pounds (150,594 kilos) of frozen ground beef products.

This year’s E. coli outbreak is larger than the one from the Clackamas County Fair in 2006, when the bacteria infected four people, sending one to the hospital, said William Keene, an epidemiologist for the Oregon Public Health Division.

According to the Portland Oregonian, seven people who attended the Clackamas County Fair contracted E. coli bacteria, according to the Oregon Public Health Division.  Health investigators said today the outbreak spread to one additional person but is now contained. E. coli infections can cause diarrhea, stomach cramps and kidney failure. Those who became sick in August have recovered or are recovering.

County fairs have a history of E. coli problems, typically from people who come into contact with fecal matter, perhaps by petting a cow or sheep, and fail to wash their hands before eating food, according to Clackamas County Health Officer Gary Oxman. During the 2002 Lane County Fair, about 65 people got infected, and the bacteria spread from those people to about 20 more.

Fairs and Petting Zoos have not only been an ongoing risk for E. coli specifically, but also for other bacterial and viral illnesses.  We created a website, www.fair-safety.com, to make sure Fairs and the public are aware of the risk.  We have been involved in several lawsuits involving petting zoos and fairs, including Lane County, Oregon, and the State Fairs of North Carolina and Florida.  Also, see the news that has been generated on the topic of the last few years – News.

Here are some presentations that I have given on the topic in 2004, 2005 and 2006:

We have been contacted and retained by four families as of an hour ago. I thought it might be helpful to let my faithful blog readers know that  this is not the first time Topps product has sickened people:

www.ecoliblog.com

The other interesting fact is that outbreaks and recalls of E. coli (after a several year downturn) have come back since the Spring of 2007:

www.marlerblog.com

Also, if you need some background on E. coli generally and the scope of litigation since 1993, please see:

www.marlerclark.com

You can also keep up on the outbreak here:

www.ecoliblog.com

It is a nasty bug: