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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

The Topps story continues to grow more ominous

I have been in Minneapolis the entire week working to resolve nearly 20 severe E. coli cases (HUS Illnesses) tied to last years Dole spinach E. coli outbreak and a few cases from this year involving E. coli contaminated meat.  Late Friday night, after nearly the full week of negotiations, we were able to resolve them all.  I also had the chance to meet with clients on the new Cargill outbreak.  However, bad news from the meat industry continues:  Jeffrey Gold from the New Jersey AP broke a disturbing story today that Topps recalled product is still on store shelves – State inspectors find recalled meat at New Jersey store

“New Jersey consumer safety officials on Thursday said its inspectors were able to buy boxes of potentially tainted frozen hamburgers at a store weeks after the meat was recalled, sparking fear that a distributor may have delivered boxes to other stores.”

In another, both frightening and bizarre announcement, FSIS and CFIA also announced today that it is likely that the Topps E. coli contamination came from a Canadian company, Ranchers Beef, Ltd., after 45 Canadian illnesses were linked to its beef products months before illnesses were reported in the US.  According to a press release issued by the CFIA, the investigation is looking at 45 cases that were reported between July and September in New Brunswick, Quebec, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia. Eleven people were hospitalized and one elderly person died.

FSIS Provides Update on Topps Meat Company Recall Investigation

A joint investigation between the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has identified a likely source of the multistate outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 infections linked to the Topps Meat Company.

On October 25, the CFIA provided FSIS with PFGE patterns, or DNA fingerprints, from tests of beef trim from a Canadian firm, Ranchers Beef, Ltd., Canadian establishment number 630. This firm provided trim to the Topps Meat Company. While the firm, which had been located in Balzac, Alberta, ceased operations on August 15, 2007, some product remained in storage and was collected and tested by CFIA as part of the joint investigation of the Topps recall and as part of CFIA’s own investigation into 45 illnesses in Canada from E. coli O157:H7.

Today, PulseNet provided verification to FSIS that this PFGE pattern matched those from patients who were ill and from positive tests conducted by the New York Department of Health on product (both intact packages and open packages from patients’ homes) that was later recalled by the Topps Meat Company on September 29. PulseNet is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) searchable database of all PFGE patterns from patients and food products in the United States.

So, let’s get this straight – CFIA knew in July that 45 Canadians had been sickened by Ranchers Beef meat last Summer but no one traced where that product or trim may have gone.  We now know that product made it into the Topps hamburger production and that Topps product seems to still be on some store shelves.  What a mess.  Perhaps more enforcement from the FSIS?  How would that have helped with the Canadian company sending is contaminated trim over the border?  I spoke to Julie Schmidt at USA Today:

Bigger, riskier plants to get more frequent E. coli checks

The stepped-up enforcement is “pretty ambitious,” says Bill Marler, the nation’s leading E. coli plaintiff’s attorney. But he says the USDA required many of the measures years ago and failed to adequately monitor and enforce them.

  • Phyllis Entis

    Here are the first three paragraphs of the CFIA (Canadian) press release:
    “OTTAWA, October 26, 2007 Á™∂” The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) are currently investigating possible linkages between E. coli cases that occurred earlier this summer in Canada.
    The investigation is examining 45 cases of E. coli O157:H7 that were found in New Brunswick, Quebec, Saskatchewan, Ontario and British Columbia. These cases were previously reported from July to September, 2007. As a result of these cases, eleven people were hospitalized and one elderly individual died.
    Ongoing testing has determined that most of the cases share a unique pattern of E. coli and the cause of the illnesses has been mostly associated with ground beef. This new E. coli pattern has also been found in the United States, and we are working closely with our counterparts at the United States Department of Agriculture to share information. We greatly appreciate the USDAÁ™∂Âܱ input and cooperation in this investigation.”
    As I understand this release, the Canadian and US outbreaks were concurrent. I don’t believe that CFIA withheld information from USDA for a period of months. Both outbreaks ran through the period of July – September, 2007.

  • I guess I do not speak Canadian

    I’m a bit confused. Yesterday it was reported that Ranchers Beef Ltd (now out of business) was both the source of an E. coli outbreak in the United States that had sickened at least 40 tied to the consumption…