June 2008

Well guess what, you sue a church and lightening strikes you – Nebraska Beef, Ltd., is now, not only responsible for sickening a bunch of people at a church picnic and killing one church lady, but also is now responsible for a new Class 1, High Health risk recall of 531,707 pounds of "ground beef components" that were contaminated with E. coli O157:H7, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service announced a few moments ago.

The E. coli O157:H7 tainted Nebraska Beef was discovered by FSIS through traceback investigations and ground beef samples collected from two federally inspected establishments positive for E. coli O157:H7, as well as multiple samples of Kroger brand ground beef positive for E. coli O157:H7, with matching pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) patterns.

Kroger brand ground beef samples were collected by the Michigan and Ohio Departments of Agriculture and Health from patients in Michigan and Ohio. Nebraska Beef, Ltd., was identified as a common supplier to those stores in addition to two federally inspected establishments where FSIS obtained a positive ground beef sample that was matched to the outbreak strain identified in Michigan and Ohio.

The epidemiological investigations and a case control study conducted by the Michigan and Ohio Departments of Agriculture and Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determined that there is an association between the ground beef products and 35 illnesses reported in Michigan (17) and Ohio (18). The illnesses were linked through the epidemiological investigation and by their PFGE pattern, or DNA fingerprint, found in PulseNet, a database maintained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

E. coli O157:H7 Outbreak Linked to Kroger Hamburger

Although Ohio and Michigan officials count nearly 50 ill, the CDC announced today that 35 confirmed cases of E. coli O157:H7 have been linked both epidemiologically and by molecular fingerprinting to this outbreak, 17 in Michigan and 18 in Ohio.  The onset of illness in these patients occurred from 5/30/08 to 6/14/08. Nineteen ill persons have been hospitalized.  One patient has developed a type of kidney failure called hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS).  No deaths linked to the outbreak have been reported.  Twenty-two (63%) of patients are female.  Patients range in age from 4 to 78 years with a median age of 22 years.

Salmonella Saintpaul Outbreak Linked to What?

After the tomato industry was thrown under the bus, the CDC announced today that it was only "an initial epidemiologic investigation comparing foods eaten by ill and well persons identified consumption of raw tomatoes as strongly linked to illness.  Recently, many clusters of illnesses have been identified in Texas and other states among persons who ate at restaurants.  These clusters have led us to broaden the investigation to be sure that it encompasses food items that are commonly consumed with tomatoes." 

The CDC also announced new numbers – 851 persons infected with Salmonella Saintpaul with the same genetic fingerprint have been identified in 36 states and the District of Columbia.  The number of ill persons identified in each state is as follows: Arkansas (10 persons), Arizona (39), California (10), Colorado (11), Connecticut (4), Florida (1), Georgia (18), Idaho (3), Illinois (91), Indiana (11), Kansas (14), Kentucky (1), Maine (1), Maryland (29), Massachusetts (21), Michigan (6), Minnesota (2), Missouri (12), New Hampshire (3), Nevada (4), New Jersey (4), New Mexico (90), New York (26), North Carolina (5), Ohio (6), Oklahoma (19), Oregon (10), Pennsylvania (8), Rhode Island (3), Tennessee (6), Texas (346), Utah (2), Virginia (22), Vermont (2), Washington (4), Wisconsin (6), and the District of Columbia (1).  Among the 581 persons with information available, illnesses began between April 10 and June 20, 2008, including 173 who became ill on June 1 or later.

USA Today reports that, “CDC broadens its investigation of salmonella outbreak.”

If you weren’t able to join us in Seattle for the conference Marler Clark sponsored in April, here’s the next best thing.  We’ve posted the power point presentations from "Who’s Minding the Store: The Current State of Food Safety and How it Can Be Improved" on Marler Clark.

As you’ll recall, we had a tremendous array of speakers from the local, national, and international food safety communities – the power points are clickable from the speaker names, so you can browse through by panel and topic.

Thanks again to all of the speakers who shared their time and expertise.  We are considering making this an annual event.  I will keep you posted.

We will file the first E. coli lawsuit in the Ohio and Michigan E. coli outbreak Monday in the Court of Common Pleas in Franklin County, Ohio against Kroger and its as yet unidentified meat supplier (“John Doe”).  The complaint was filed on behalf of a New Albany resident who was infected with the toxic E. coli strain O157:H7 after eating ground beef purchased from a Dublin, Ohio Kroger.

The lawsuit states that the plaintiff purchased beef patties from the Kroger at 7100 Perimeter Loop Road in Dublin on June 4.  She cooked and consumed the beef that same day.  She began feeling ill on June 8, and over the next two days her symptoms became increasingly severe.  By June 10, she was experiencing intense nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps.  She was admitted to the hospital, where she tested positive for E. coli O157:H7.  She was released on June 12, and continues to recover from her illness.

E. coli illnesses began showing up in central Ohio in mid-June.  This was paralleled by a sharp increase in E. coli cases in Michigan.  By June 20, officials had genetically linked many of the Ohio and Michigan cases; the days that followed, the outbreak was traced to ground beef from Kroger stores.  With illnesses nearing 30, Kroger initiated a voluntary recall on June 25.  The products subject to recall include all varieties and weights of ground beef products bearing a Kroger label sold between May 21 and June 8 at Michigan stores, as well as Kroger stores in Columbus and Toledo, Ohio.  These ground beef products are marked with a sell-by date between 05/21/08 and 06/08/08.

Since the spring of 2007 over 34 million pounds of E. coli contaminated beef has been recalled by different companies.  Kroger has recalled beef and beef products at least five times over the last seven years:

· 2001: Excel Corporation of Newnan, GA recalled 190,000 pounds of fresh ground beef and pork that had been distributed to Kroger stores in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina, and Tennessee.

· 2002: Kroger stores in 18 states recalled ConAgra ground beef products. In all, 18.6 million pounds of beef was recalled.  45 People in 23 states became ill with E. coli from the tainted meat. One woman in Ohio died.

· 2002 – One store in Arkansas recalled 240 pounds ground beef, no illnesses.

· 2003: Green Bay Dressed Beef doing business as American Foods Group recalled 106,000 pounds of fresh and frozen ground beef products distributed under the Kroger logo.

· 2007 – United Food Group recalled 5.7 million pounds of beef, including ground beef sold at Kroger.

News Coverage to date:

Ohio woman files E. coli lawsuit against Kroger

E. coli lawsuit names Kroger, beef suppliers

Lawsuit filed against Kroger in E. coli case

Marler Clark Files First E. coli Lawsuit in Kroger Tainted Ground Beef Recall

Seattle, Cleveland firms file E. coli lawsuit in state

The Michigan Department of Community Health has confirmed 17 E. coli cases that are genetically linked and over half of those cases have either prepared or consumed hamburger meat from Kroger. 11 of these cases required hospitalization. The 17 genetically linked cases, E. coli O157:H7, are present in seven Michigan counties including Eaton (1), Macomb (3), Washtenaw (4), Saginaw (1), Genesee (1), Wayne (3) and Oakland (4).

The Ohio Department of Health is reporting 22 confirmed and probable cases of E. coli O157:H7, 18 of which are confirmed and linked to the outbreak in Michigan and Ohio. The cases are in Franklin (10 confirmed, one probable); Delaware (one confirmed); Fairfield (four confirmed); Lucas (one confirmed, three probable); Seneca (one confirmed); and Union (one confirmed) counties.

Since the Jack in the Box outbreak of 1993, we have been involved in every major E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in the country. Keep reading below:

Continue Reading Update – Michigan and Ohio Health Departments Report on Kroger E. coli Illnesses and Recall

Delivrine Registre of Albany Georgia station WALB reports that an E. coli outbreak that has sickened at least one young woman in Albany may be responsible for the illnesses of a dozen others.  As she reports, the investigation into the source an E. coli outbreak in Colquitt County continues.  At least a dozen people have shown up at the emergency room this week with symptoms similar to those caused by E. coli bacteria.  So far 15-year-old Lauren Hill Bannister is the only confirmed case of E. coli.  Health officials believe the common link is ground beef.

We have been involved in many outbreaks of E. coli O157:H7 since the Jack in the Box outbreak of 1993, including many in Georgia.  See, Marler Clark E. coli Litigation.  Recently, we have been investigating E. coli illnesses in Ohio, Michigan and Alabama that all appeared tied to hamburger consumption.  Since the Spring of 2007, E. coli related Illnesses and Meat recalls have been on the rise.  Nearly 25 recalls have occurred amounting to over 34,000,000 pounds of meat.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated in 1999 that 73,000 cases of E. coli O157:H7 occur each year in the United States. Approximately 2,000 people are hospitalized, and 60 people die as a direct result of E. coli O157:H7 infections and complications, like Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome.  The majority of infections are thought to be foodborne-related, although E. coli O157:H7 accounts for less than 1% of all foodborne illness.

While the majority of foodborne illness outbreaks associated with E. coli O157:H7 have involved ground beef, such outbreaks have also involved unpasteurized apple and orange juice, unpasteurized milk, alfalfa sprouts, and water.  An outbreak can also be caused by person-to-person transmission of the bacteria in homes and in settings like daycare centers, hospitals, and nursing homes.

A summary of the peer-reviewed literature relating to the “pros” of raw milk consumption was posted earlier this month. What about the “cons?” The overwhelming “con” of drinking raw milk according to the literature relates to food safety hazards. The following is an overview of the literature describing pathogens found in raw milk and outbreaks associated with consumption of raw milk and products made from raw milk.

Another possible “con” not well-documented in the literature is cost. First, commercial raw milk demands a premium price in the US with a gallon costing the consumer ~$12 compared with ~$7 for a gallon of organic pasteurized milk and ~$3-5 for a gallon of traditional pasteurized milk depending on the region and other factors. Second, the outbreaks, illnesses, and recalls resulting from raw milk consumption also incur costs for individuals and society:

• Medical expenses for acute care and long-term health problems
• Lost productivity and other indirect costs
• Costs to public health for investigation and control of outbreaks
• Losses to the dairy industry as a whole due to reduced consumer confidence following publicized outbreaks and recalls

Continue Reading Raw Milk Cons: Review of the Peer-Reviewed Literature

According to Sarah Tompkins of the Detroit Free Press, the search for bad ground beef is now down to 2 Kroger suppliers. Wouldn’t it be sweet justice if the source of this outbreak winds up being Nebraska Beef – recently famous for suing a church in upstate Minnesota.  You must read the New York Times piece – "Out of a Church Kitchen and Into the Courts."  My favorite quotes:

Denis W. Stearns, a Seattle lawyer who represents Mr. Hawkinson and Ms. Wheeler, said it was unusual but not unprecedented for a meat company to sue the victims. His colleague, Bill Marler, is less diplomatic, calling Nebraska Beef’s lawsuit “one of the boldest, yet boneheaded, moves I have ever seen.”

As for suing the church, Mr. Gordon argued that the smorgasbord wasn’t a casual family dinner, but a money-making project for the church that was open to anyone willing to pay the freight.

“When you are running it as a money-making venture, why should you be any different from McDonald’s?” Mr. Gordon said. “Nobody is suing the old ladies, to use your term. In the same way that when McDonald’s gets sued, no one sues the nice teenage kid behind the counter.”

At least not yet.

According to Ms. Tompkins, as of Friday evening, health officials in Michigan and Ohio reported 47 confirmed and suspected cases of E. coli O157:H7.  Eleven Michiganders were hospitalized, including one treated for kidney failure (HUS).

It is concerning as of this date, Kroger and the FSIS are unable to say which of two suppliers are the source of the E. coli contamination.  Frankly, there are only a couple of reasons for that:  1) Kroger’s record keeping of its meat purchase and grinding records make it unclear which producer supplied meat on what day to which store, and 2) that contamination occurred at Kroger’s itself (not likely, but possible.  Perhaps our lawsuit on Monday will shake loose the answer.

As of 4 pm on June 27, the Michigan Department of Community Health has confirmed 17 E. coli O157:H7 cases that are genetically linked and over half of those cases have either prepared or consumed hamburger meat from Kroger. 11 of these cases required hospitalization. The 17 genetically linked cases, E. coli O157:H7, are present in seven Michigan counties including Eaton (1), Macomb (3), Washtenaw (4), Saginaw (1), Genesee (1), Wayne (3) and Oakland (4).  In addition there are 8 other cases under investigation.

The Ohio Department of Health is reporting 22 confirmed and probable cases of E. coli O157:H7, 18 of which are confirmed and linked to the outbreak in Michigan and Ohio. The cases are in Franklin (10 confirmed, 1probable); Delaware (1 confirmed); Fairfield (4 confirmed); Lucas (1 confirmed, 3 probable); Seneca (1 confirmed); and Union (1).

We have been contacted by over a dozen individuals and families who believe they are linked to this outbreak.  We are completing our investigation on 5 that are genetically linked to Kroger meat.  Late Friday afternoon we filed the first case against Kroger and "John Doe Suppliers" as, despite repeated requests, Kroger refused to identify the supplier who provided it E. coli-contaminated product.

From a CDC/FDA Press Conference today:

As salmonella cases continue to climb, the government is checking if tainted tomatoes really are to blame for the record outbreak – or if the problem is with another ingredient, or a warehouse that is contaminating newly harvested tomatoes.  Federal health officials say there’s no evidence clearing tomatoes.  But inspectors haven’t yet found the outbreak’s source even as cases continue to rise – to 810 confirmed ill.  Most worrisome, the latest victim became sick on June 15.   Patricia Griffin of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the agency is looking into other ingredients, just in case tomatoes were not to blame.

CDC is collaborating with public health officials in many states, the Indian Health Service, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to investigate an ongoing multi-state outbreak of human Salmonella serotype Saintpaul infections. An epidemiologic investigation comparing foods eaten by ill and well persons has identified consumption of raw tomatoes as the likely source of the illnesses. The specific type and source of tomatoes is under investigation; however, the data suggest that illnesses are linked to consumption of raw red plum, red Roma, or round red tomatoes, or any combination of these types of tomatoes, and to products containing these raw tomatoes.

Since April, 810 persons infected with Salmonella Saintpaul with the same genetic fingerprint have been identified in 36 states and the District of Columbia. These were identified because clinical laboratories in all states send Salmonella strains from ill persons to their State public health laboratory for characterization. Maine and Minnesota have been added to the list of states with ill persons. The number of ill persons identified in each state is as follows: Arkansas (10 persons), Arizona (39), California (10), Colorado (8), Connecticut (4), Florida (1), Georgia (18), Idaho (3), Illinois (78), Indiana (11), Kansas (14), Kentucky (1), Maine (1), Maryland (25), Massachusetts (18), Michigan (4), Minnesota (2), Missouri (12), New Hampshire (3), Nevada (4), New Jersey (4), New Mexico (85), New York (25), North Carolina (5), Ohio (6), Oklahoma (19), Oregon (7), Pennsylvania (6), Rhode Island (3), Tennessee (6), Texas (342), Utah (2), Virginia (22), Vermont (1), Washington (4), Wisconsin (6), and the District of Columbia (1).