October 2009

New Hampshire health officials are advising residents to take part in a beef recall after one person has died and two others became ill after eating contaminated ground beef.

"E. coli is a bacteria that produces a toxin that is potentially deadly to people," said Dr. Jose Montero, Director of Public Health at DHHS, a press release.

Montero urges residents to check their freezers for any affected products.

Health officials said Saturday the products were packaged between Sept. 15-16 and may have been labeled with sell-by dates from Sept. 19-28, and were sold at various stores throughout the state.

Health officials say the three became sick because of possible E. coli contamination.

They say the contaminated meat may be related to the recall of almost 546,000 pounds of ground beef in Connecticut, Maine and Massachusetts. That meat was sold by Fairbank Farms in Ashville, N.Y.

Each package carried the number "EST. 492" inside the USDA inspection mark or on the nutrition label.

NY Firm Recalls 546,000 pounds tied to E. coli Illnesses – 45,000,000 pounds recalled in last two years.

The first lawsuit stemming from the E. coli outbreak in Massachusetts and likely Rhode Island will be filed Monday in the Trial Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Superior Court, against Crocetti-Oakdale Packing, doing business as South Shore Meats, Inc., which had recalled 1.039 pounds of E. coli tainted beef linked to illnesses.

The E. coli lawsuit was filed on behalf of a Marshfield, Massachusetts family, whose grandmother and children were infected with the pathogenic E. coli strain O157:H7 after eating ground beef purchased from the Star Market in Marshfield. The plaintiff is represented by Marler Clark, a Seattle law firm dedicated to representing victims of foodborne illness.

In addition, on Saturday (10/31/09), Ashville NY firm Fairbank Farms recalled 546,000 pounds of beef products due to E. coli contamination. According to the USDA release, the meat has been linked to illnesses in Maine, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, and distributed via retail outlets including Trader Joe’s, Price Chopper, Lancaster, Wild Harvest, Shaw’s, BJ’s, Ford Brothers, and Giant.
Ground beef packaged under the Fairbank Farms name was also distributed to stores in Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

It appears that this recall is an expansion of the Crocetti-Oakdale Packing, doing business as South Shore Meats, Inc., recall of 1.039 pounds of E. coli tainted beef linked to illnesses in Massachusetts and likely Rhode Island. “This expansion is a massive recall, and the danger cannot be overstated,” said foodborne illness expert and attorney Bill Marler, who represents several families in the outbreak. “The last recall of this size—Nebraska Beef in August of 2008—sickened dozens. It means that tainted meat is in homes across the country, and we have to do our best to get the word out to consumers so that they don’t suffer the illnesses that these families have.”

In addition, a cluster of at least 20 E. coli illnesses were reported by middle schoolers and chaperones who visited Camp Bournedale in Plymouth, MA in mid-October. “At this time it is unclear if these illnesses are linked to either recall, however, the timing is quite suspicious,” added Marler.

Recall Release CLASS I RECALL
FSIS-RC-059-2009 HEALTH RISK: HIGH

Fairbank Farms, an Ashville, NY, establishment, is recalling approximately 545,699 pounds of fresh ground beef products that may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced today.

FSIS became aware of the problem during the course of an investigation of a cluster of E. coli O157:H7 illnesses. Working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and state health and agriculture departments, FSIS determined that there is an association between the fresh ground beef products subject to recall and illnesses in Connecticut, Maine and Massachusetts. FSIS is continuing to work with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, the Connecticut Department of Public Health, other state health and agriculture departments and the CDC on the investigation. Anyone with signs or symptoms of foodborne illness should consult a physician.

The products subject to recall include: [View Labels, PDF Only]

Trader Joes

* 1-pound packages of "TRADER JOE’S BUTCHER SHOP FINE QUALITY MEATS GROUND BEEF 85/15."
* 1-pound packages of "TRADER JOE’S BUTCHER SHOP FINE QUALITY MEATS GROUND BEEF 80/20."
NOTE: The sell-by dates for the above two products may be October 6 or 7, 2009.
* 1-pound trays of "TRADER JOE’S BUTCHER SHOP FINE QUALITY MEATS GROUND BEEF PATTIES 96/4 EXTRA LEAN."
* 1-pound trays of "TRADER JOE’S BUTCHER SHOP FINE QUALITY MEATS GROUND BEEF PATTIES 85/15."

Price Chopper

* 1- and 2.5-pound trays of "PRICE CHOPPER MEATLOAF & MEATBALL MIX."
* 1-pound trays of "PRICE CHOPPER EXTRA LEAN GROUND BEEF 96/4."
* 1-pound trays of "PRICE CHOPPER FRESH GROUND BEEF CHUCK FOR CHILI 80% LEAN 20% FAT."

Lancaster and Wild Harvest

* 1-pound trays of "LANCASTER BRAND 96/4 EXTRA LEAN GROUND BEEF."
* 1- and 2-pound trays of "LANCASTER BRAND 90/10 GROUND BEEF."
* 1-pound trays of "WILD HARVEST NATURAL 85/15 ANGUS GROUND BEEF."

Shaw’s

* 1- and 2-pound trays of "SHAW’S FRESH GROUND BEEF 93/7."
* 1-, 2- and 3-pound trays of "SHAW’S FRESH GROUND BEEF 80/20."
* 1- and 3-pound trays of "SHAW’S FRESH GROUND BEEF 75/25."
* 1.3-pound trays of "SHAW’S FRESH GROUND SIRLOIN BEEF PATTIES 90/10."
* 1.3-pound trays of "SHAW’S FRESH GROUND ROUND BEEF PATTIES 85/15."
* 1.3-pound trays of "SHAW’S FRESH GROUND BEEF PATTIES 80/20."
* 3-pound trays of "SHAW’S FRESH GROUND BEEF PATTIES FAMILY PACK 80/20."
* 1-pound trays of "SHAW’S ANGUS GROUND BEEF 85/15."
* 1-, 2- and 3-pound trays of "SHAW’S FRESH GROUND ROUND BEEF 85/15."
* 1-pound trays of "SHAW’S 90% NATURAL GROUND BEEF."
* 1-pound trays of "SHAW’S 85% NATURAL GROUND BEEF."
* 1-, 2- and 3-pound trays of "SHAW’S FRESH GROUND SIRLOIN 90/10."
* 1-pound trays of "MEATLOAF & MEATBALL MIX."

BJ’s

* 5-pound trays of "FRESH GROUND BEEF, CONTAINS 15 % FAT" patties.
* 3- and 5-pound trays of "LEAN GROUND BEEF, CONTAINS 7% FAT."
* 2.5-pound trays of "MEATLOAF & MEATBALL MIX."

Ford Brothers

* 3-pound trays of "FRESH GROUND BEEF, CONTAINS 20% FAT" patties.

Giant

* 1-pound trays of "GIANT EXTRA LEAN GROUND BEEF 96/4."
* 1-pound trays of "GIANT MEATLOAF & MEATBALL MIX."
* 1-pound trays of "GIANT NATURE’S PROMISE GROUND BEEF."
* 1-pound trays of "GIANT NATURE’S PROMISE GROUND BEEF PATTIES."

Each package bears the establishment number "EST. 492" inside the USDA mark of inspection or on the nutrition label. These products were packaged on September 15 and 16, 2009, and may have been labeled at the retail stores with a sell-by date from September 19 through 28, 2009, unless otherwise noted above. Consumers should ask at their point of purchase if the products they have are subject to recall. The products were sent to distribution centers, intended for further distribution to retail establishments in Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions. When available, the retail distribution list(s) will be posted on FSIS’ Web site at http://www.fsis.usda.gov/FSIS_Recalls/ Open_Federal_Cases/index.asp.

Products for further processing:

* Cases of 10-pound "FAIRBANK FARMS FRESH GROUND BEEF CHUBS."

Each case bears the establishment number "EST. 492" inside the USDA mark of inspection; has package dates of "09.14.09," "09.15.09," or "09.16.09;" and sell-by dates of "10.3.09," "10.4.09," or "10.5.09. These products were distributed to retail establishments in Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia for further processing. However, these products at retail will likely not bear the package dates and sell-by dates listed above. Customers with concerns should contact their point of purchase.

The Beef Industry and the USDA really need to get their shit together.  This it truly stupid.  It is beyond words.

According to a recent press release:

“The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture today suspended their respective licenses and thereby ceased operations at the Bushways Slaughterhouse facility in Grand Isle, Vermont.

“The Vermont Agency of Agriculture was notified by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) late Wednesday afternoon of alleged animal welfare violations at the facility. The agency immediately referred the matter to the USDA as the facility is operated and monitored under the inspection of USDA.

“USDA and the state have suspended the operation of the facility and are conducting an investigation. These allegations of inhumane handling and treatment of animals if verified, warrant prompt corrective actions to ensure they do not happen again.

“In addition, in accordance with agency animal health statutes, the Attorney General has been notified of possible criminal actions in regards to animal health and welfare.

“The agency finds the alleged animal welfare practices disturbing and states that there is no excuse for the inhumane treatment of animals. These practices are not representative of the industry as a whole in Vermont and such actions will not be tolerated in our state. The agency is taking every action within its power to address the situation.”

On January 29, 2009, the Untied States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) implicated Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) of Blakely Georgia as the source of a massive Salmonella Typhimurium outbreak that sickened at least 700 sent about a dozen to early graves. Investigation into the outbreak revealed knowledge of product contamination at the highest levels of the PCA corporate structure, yet, ten months later, criminal charges have yet to be filed against PCA executives.

One can only imagine what thoughts are going through the head of PCA owner Stewart Parnell these days. Perhaps he’s grown complacent with the fact that it has been over three quarters of a year since the massive recall of PCA products and yet criminal charges are nowhere in sight. Perhaps he’s more concerned at the moment with his company’s bankruptcy proceedings. One thought that may not yet have occurred to him, however, is gratitude for the fact that, at worst, he’s subject to American tainted food laws. In other countries (read: China) Mr. Parnell might have more to worry about right now than shaky finances.

The facts of the PCA Salmonella outbreak are no light matter. What made the PCA outbreak particularly noteworthy was the huge number of products involved in the recall and the disastrous nation-wide health consequences resulting from the tainted products. The investigation following the outbreak revealed evidence of conditions unsanitary to a degree that would likely make Upton Sinclair turn in his grave. The most egregious findings from the investigation, however, came not from production facilities riddled with rat feces, but from internal communications that illustrated knowledge of shipping contaminated products that could be traced all the way to Mr. Parnell himself.

In an e-mail dated October 6, 2008, Mr. Parnell complained to Blakely, Georgia PCA plant manager, Sammy Lightsey, that positive Salmonella results were “costing us huge $$$$$ and causing obviously a huge lapse in time from the time we pick up peanuts until the time we can invoice.”  In the same e-mail, Mr. Parnell stated, “we need to protect our self [sic] and the problem is that the tests absolutely give us no protection.” (Link)

Subsequent statements from Michelle Pronto, the microbiology manager of the lab that warned PCA of dangerous test results, indicated that Mr. Lightsey “confirmed that because of high coliform results they were going to send samples to a different lab for a while.” (Link)  Ms. Pronto further indicated that her lab “did not receive any samples labeled ‘PCA’ between 8/26/08 and 11/24/08.” Additional evidence indicates that Mr. Parnell begged the FDA to allow PCA to continue shipping peanuts even after the FDA identified PCA’s Georgia plant as the source of the Salmonella outbreak. (Link)

In light of the fact that Mr. Parnell and Mr. Lightsey wanted to continue with business as usual, even though their products were dangerously contaminated, and the fact that those practices resulted in hundreds of illnesses and a dozen deaths, criminal charges in this case seem more than apt. And yet, to this day we have yet to see a single PCA employee or shareholder prosecuted. It is not as if there are no laws applicable to this situation.

Under federal law, it is a felony to adulterate or misbrand food and put it into interstate commerce. A person who commits such an act “with the intent to defraud or mislead” is guilty of a felony punishable by three years imprisonment.

Under the same federal law, a person may be convicted of a misdemeanor without a showing by the prosecution of proof of fraudulent intent, or even a showing of knowing or willful conduct. Instead, a person may be convicted if he or she held a position of responsibility or authority in a firm such that the person could have prevented the violation. Convictions under the misdemeanor provisions are punishable by up to one year imprisonment or a $1,000 fine.

In cases involving food adulteration or misbranding, individuals can be named as defendants along with corporate entities through which crimes were committed. (Link). Individuals named in such cases are usually high ranking officials who were in charge of the decision-making process that led to a violation of the law, as well as those persons who were actively involved in fraudulent activity. As a result, the presidents of corporations and the managers of the facilities where violations took place are often proper defendants.

These laws indicate that sellers of tainted food in America may at least be subject to some criminal penalties, however, such laws don’t hold a candle to the criminal penalties executives of Chinese companies have faced in similarly egregious matters. This fact is easily observed by looking at just a couple recent examples.

On September 16, 2008, a Chinese powdered milk company accused of selling poisoned product that left nearly 300,000 children ill fired its general manager and board chairwoman Tian Wenhua. That same day, Communist party officials from Hebei Province removed Ms. Tian from her position as secretary of the corporation committee of the Communist Party of China. The next day, Ms. Tian was formally charged with producing toxic food, a criminal charge punishable by up to life imprisonment or death.

By September 18, six days after the official announcement of the crisis, Chinese police had already arrested 18 people in connection with the powdered milk contamination, including 6 sellers of melamine and 12 milk suppliers accused of adding melamine to their products. Police also seized 300 kg of chemicals, including 223 kg of melamine. Additionally, 87 people were summoned for questioning and 28 were detained.

Over the next three weeks, the arrests continued. By October 10, Hebei police had arrested 36 people in total, including a dairy farmer who was accused of producing over 600 tons of a protein powder made of melamine and maltodextrin, which he subsequently sold to food additive vendors, cattle farm owners, and fresh milk purchasers.

Another notorious recent example was the execution of Zheng Xiaoyu, the former director of the Chinese State Food and Drug Administration. According to government authorities, during Mr. Zheng’s tenure as State Food and Drug Administration director, from its founding in 1998 to his removal in mid-2005, he accepted bribes totaling $850,000. In exchange, he allegedly approved drug production licenses for multiple untested and unsafe medicines, resulting an unknown number of deaths. In May 2007, after pleading guilty to charges of corruption and accepting bribes from pharmaceutical companies, Mr. Zheng was sentenced to death. The court that sentenced Mr. Zheng stated that he had approved at least six fake drugs during his tenure. Mr. Zheng was executed on July 10, 2007.

What makes these examples interesting is not only the harshness of the punishments compared to American law, but also the swiftness. In Ms. Tian’s case, a mere day passed between her firing and her facing severe criminal charges. In Mr. Zheng’s case, he was executed less than two months after sentencing. Whether such harsh punishments will deter future wrongdoing in China is yet to be seen, and certainly the Chinese legal system is not a place American courts or lawyers should turn to for inspiration. Nevertheless, PCA executives may want to take a moment to consider the fact that their reprehensible behavior is a capital offense in some parts of the world. Likewise, executives of similar food companies that may be looking for ways to cut costs in this difficult economic climate may want to think twice about putting profits before ethics. These executives owe it to their customers to ensure that the food they produce is safe. They owe it to their customers to work to produce safe products as if their lives depend on it.

I leave for China on Monday with my 10 year old daughter.  Thanks to Alex Ferguson of my office for the help on the above.

At midnight Crocetti’s Oakdale Packing Co., doing business as, South Shore Meats, Inc., a Brockton, Massachusetts establishment, "voluntarily" recalled approximately 1,039 pounds of fresh ground beef patties derived from bench trim as well as mechanically tenderized beef cuts that may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced today.  Hamburger recalls since 2007 have now reached 41,412,504 pounds.

And, this is not counting another recall from 2008.  Then, Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Co., a Chino, California establishment, voluntarily recalled approximately 143,383,823 pounds of raw and frozen beef products that FSIS has determined to be unfit for human food because the cattle did not receive complete and proper inspection. Through evidence obtained by FSIS, the establishment did not consistently contact the FSIS public health veterinarian in situations in which cattle became non-ambulatory after passing ante-mortem inspection, which is not compliant with FSIS regulations.

This recall was initiated after the Massachusetts Department of Public Health confirmed a positive sample for E. coli O157:H7 in hamburger which it collected during an epidemiological investigation at the home of our client.  She and family members are now ill. 

FSIS is continuing to work with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, the Rhode Island Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the investigation. CDC had determined that the product sampled is associated with the illnesses being investigated related to illnesses in Massachusetts and in illnesses linked to Camp Bournedale in Plymouth, Massachusetts of 20 children from Rhode Island.  Total number of illnesses are now near 30.

Crocetti’s Oakdale Packing Co., doing business as, South Shore Meats, Inc., a Brockton, Mass., establishment, is voluntarily recalling approximately 1,039 pounds of fresh ground beef patties derived from bench trim as well as mechanically tenderized beef cuts that may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced today.

This recall was initiated after the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) confirmed a positive sample for E. coli O157:H7 which it collected during an epidemiological investigation. FSIS is continuing to work with the Massachusetts DPH, the Rhode Island Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the investigation. CDC had determined that the product sampled is associated with the illnesses being investigated. Anyone with signs or symptoms of foodborne illness should consult a physician.

The products subject to recall include:

* 10-pound boxes containing 40, 4-ounce packages of "Beef Sirloin Patties, Manufactured by South Shore Meats."
* 7.5-pound boxes containing 12, 10-ounce packages of "Beef Teres Major Steaks Seasoned."
* Boxes of 24, 5-ounce packages of "BEEF BUTT STEAKS, (Filet Style)."
* 9-pound boxes containing 12, 12-ounce packages of "BEEF BUTT STEAKS, Center Cut, (sirloin style)."
* 9-pound boxes containing 12, 12-ounce packages of "BEEF BUTT STEAK, Center Cut, (filet style)."
* 6.75-pound boxes containing 12, 9-ounce packages of "BEEF BUTT STEAK, Center Cut, (sirloin style)."
* Boxes of 16, 10-ounce packages of "Beef Top Butt Steaks Sirloin Style."
* Boxes of 20, 8-ounce packages of "Beef Butt Steaks Club Style."
* Boxes of 26, 6-ounce packages of "Beef Top Butt Steaks Sirloin Style."
* Boxes of 12, 10-ounce packages of "BEEF BUTT STEAKS, (Filet Style)."
* 6-pound boxes containing 16, 6-ounce packages of "Beef Filet Of Sirloin, Executive Cut."
* Boxes of 12, 8-ounce packages of "BEEF BUTT STEAKS, (Filet Style)."

Each box bears the establishment number "EST. 6336" inside the USDA mark of inspection and may also bear a date code of "281." The beef products were produced on October 8, 2009, and were distributed to wholesale distributors and institutions in Massachusetts. If available, the retail distribution list(s) will be posted on FSIS’ Web site at http://www.fsis.usda.gov/FSIS_Recalls/ Open_Federal_Cases/index.asp

The Rhode Island Department of Health (HEALTH) advises Rhode Islanders that the South Shore Meat packing plant in Brockton has initiated a voluntary recall on certain ground beef products based on confirmed laboratory evidence of the presence of E. coli O157:H7 in leftover ground beef samples obtained from Camp Bournedale in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The ground beef was tested by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH) after more than 20 students and chaperones from Lincoln Middle School became ill. Other Massachusetts residents are also sickened from meat purchased at Star Market in Marshfield.

USDA is investigating what lot codes are involved at this time and will be updating their website with detailed information on a regular basis. HEALTH continues to work with MDPH and federal partners to determine if any other products are involved with this recall and where the product(s) were distributed.

Below – Linda Rivera and the Rivera family a few months before Linda was stricken with E. coli O157:H7.

Below – Linda Rivera and her husband, Richard, in the hospital where Linda has been since May 1, 2009 struggling for her life.  To date, medical bills at over $1,500,000.  She has lost her job and is now on COBRA insurance coverage.  She has suffered through kidney and liver failure and the removal of her large intestine and pancreas – she is now being weaned off a ventilator and she fights other infections.  One tough lady – the family hopes and prays for her recovery.  Here is an update I received a few moments ago:

Linda continues to remain in serious condition. They are trialing her on non-ventilator support, or independent, breathing. She is only modestly successful in that she stops breathing after some hours, probably from both respiratory fatigue and continued lung disease. She therefore requires mostly ventilator assisted breathing for now. Impaired respiratory muscles mechanics, muscle wasting, and lung tissue disease in the setting of severe nutritional deficits makes it difficult for her to maintain adequate independent, reliable, respiratory physiology.

Linda’s liver remains impaired. She is jaundiced and the liver enzymes remain elevated. Serum proteins are decreased, indicating that her liver’s ability to assemble dietary amino acids into sequences that results in specific proteins for essential body functions is impaired. This impacts her immunity, fluid balance, blood clotting ability, and drug clearance of all the medications required to treat her successfully.

Linda has a large decubitus ulcer on her buttocks. This is also known as a bed sore. Her bed sore is large and potentially deep. This can be an entry way for serious infections and must be brought under control. With nutritional deficits and poor regional blood flow to an area typically compressed by the weight of her body on her buttocks while in bed, progression of the ulcer (bed sore) tends to be greater than regression unless the wound care team at her hospital aggressively treats it. This ulcer is perhaps one of the greatest threats to her otherwise relatively stable condition.

Linda is moving both upper extremities but has very limited left leg movement. With all the muscle disuse and impaired nutrition, it hurts her to move her extremities. Linda is being trialed on a special “talking tracheotomy” tube that allows her to talk. Richard says she is able to speak but apparently only perhaps single words. Using one of these tubes requires a good respiratory reserve in a recovering patient. Linda has almost no real reserve to make this tube a realistic part of her care. Nonetheless, they will continue to train her for it. Rich said that she was a bit shocked to hear her own voice. She is oriented to her place and person, but obviously time is a big blur to her. The stroke of a few months ago seems improved.

S 510 is sitting in the Senate and needs to be passed.  Senator Reid, Senator Ensign, how about a bi-partisan effort for one of your constituents?  Move S 510 to the floor for a vote.  Get it to the President before Thanksgiving.

Although recalls of beef have fallen off a bit in 2009 (only 571,922 pounds) from 2008 (7,083,399 pounds) and 2007 (33,756,142 pounds) (PDF), 2006 was the best year we had seen awhile – 181,900 pounds. 

Of course this does not account for the over 143,000,000 pounds of beef product recalled due to the Hallmark fiasco.  Illnesses?  Well, we have not yet seen a downturn as we had hoped.  Let’s hope the rest of 2009 has no more recalls and no more illnesses.