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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Ohio E. coli O157:H7 Illnesses and Death Appears Linked to Cleveland Restaurant and VFW Hall

Harlan Spector of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported this morning that:

Last week, his [Cleveland Department of Health] department inspected Deekers Side Tracks in Mentor after an illness was reported. In all, four cases have surfaced in the Cleveland area.

Two of the infections led investigators to the North Olmsted VFW Post 7647, said the Cuyahoga County Board of Health. In addition, a 7-year-old Cleveland girl died [from HUS] Sunday from an E. coli infection that also may be linked to meat served at the VFW.

According to the article, the restaurant and VFW Hall appear to have served hamburger that has been linked to the nearly 100,000 pounds of E. coli O157:H7 product produced at Illinois Valley Meats LLC.

As I said yesterday, Valley Meats is located at 2302 1st St., Coal Valley, IL 61240.  One of the products recalled in this recent recall are a variety of J & B Brand Products.

Interestingly, J & B Meats Corporation (USDA EST. 5712) is (or was) also located at 2302 1st St., Coal Valley, IL 61240 and is (or was) a manufacturer of branded specialty meats and prepared foods serving the institutional food service market.  As of 2005, J&B Meats Corporation was a subsidiary of Topps Meat Company, LLC. Topps Meat was linked to dozens of illnesses in October 2007, was forced by FSIS to recall over 21,000,000 pounds of hamburger and eventually filed for bankruptcy.  J & B recalled nearly 175,000 pounds of hamburger in that recall, 76,000 pounds in August 2003, and in June 2002 recalled nearly 65,000 pounds of hamburger.

One would think that with the numbers Americans poisoned by E. coli O157:H7 increasing in the last two years, our President, Congress and the USDA would be asking one simple question – “What is going on?” Perhaps as a start it is would be better to be honest with the public as FDA’s Dr David Acheson was after an E. coli outbreak tied to spinach when he was quoted as saying: "The spinach that is going to come on to the market next week or whenever is going to be as safe as it was before this outbreak.”

Clearly this administration and Congress cannot yet critically analyze itself. Congress needs to act now. It is time for Congress to accept a leadership role and call hearings on “How safe is our meat supply?” not only to explore the reasons for this recent outbreak, 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 the CDC and USDA may not work. And, more funding for university research may also not be the answer. But, getting all to the same table is a start.

  • John Munsell

    Perhaps the most intreaging statement in the above article is the statement that Congressional outreach should be “from farm to fork”. Indeed, when the HACCP ideal was rolled out in the mid-90’s, it was described as, you guessed it, “farm-to-fork”. This initial USDA statement can now be seen as “Bait and Switch”. Once HACCP was fully implemented by all federal plants in 2000, USDA has continued to implement numerous Notices and Directives which have been intended to insulate the huge slaughter plants from liability, and to pass all pathogen liability downstream to smaller further processing plants and to allegedly lazy consumers who fail to fully cook fecal bacteria which emanate from sloppy kill floor dressing procedures. Therefore, HACCP has degenerated from its lofty initial “Farm to Fork” continuum into a “Processing Plant to Consumer” liability evasion. Anyone who reads blogs from the meat industry, and Meatingplace is an excellent one, readily sees an increasing cacophony of harsh invectives aimed at the increasing recklessness of today’s consumers, who have been made the culprit in these recurring outbreaks. It’s been correctly stated that the meat industry has invested millions of dollars to create pathogen intervention steps, but it’s equally correct to admit that the sum total of these improvements have been dramatically ineffective to stanch the number of outbreaks in 2007 & 2008. This last week, for the first time, I read claims that the meat industry has spent “BILLIONS” in this effort. Next year, it will be “ZILLIONS”. Regardless of the cost, the bottom line is that the introduction of enteric bacteria (E.coli & Salmonella) must be prevented AT THE ORIGIN, rather than wasting our time (and imperiling consumers) allowing the horses to get out of the barn (with USDA approval), and subsequently attempt to detect and rein them in. No one is more complicit in this dilemma than USDA, which allows the large slaughter facilities to ship into commerce intact cuts of meat (boxed beef) which is surface-contaminated with E.coli 0157:H7. USDA lacks the courage to consider the implications of the “Estate of Kriefall ex rel. Friefall v. Excel Corporation” litigation which concluded last year, in which the legal system found Excel to be responsible for a death caused by the shipment of intact meat (Beef Tri Tips) into commerce which was surface-contaminated with E.coli. This is not rocket science, folks. This is, pure and simple, dictated by this nation’s commitment to the twin towers of (a) safe food and (b) public health. We must Force the Source to clean up its act, rather than to Destroy the Destination (small meat plants and consumers). The multi-national meat companies enjoy clout (in fact, control) over the USDA, and leverage its influence in the Senate and House to prevent meaningful congressional pressure against USDA to mandate meaningful change in meat policies. One of the major culprits here, if not THE primary problem is HACCP, which is certainly not science-based, and has deregulated the meat industry, for which consumers are now paying the price. We need a clean sweep at the top of FSIS, the meat inspection branch of USDA. These bureaucrats have sold their souls to the HACCP concept, and in no way will they countenance again a “Hands On” involvement at the large slaughter facilities, the biggest four of which now slaughter over 80% of all the feedlot cattle in America. We need USDA policy makers whose loyalty is to public health, and not to maintaining a comfortable relationship with the big packers. John Munsell