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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Topps E. coli Problems – Where is Wal-Mart?

I am in Minnesota this week working on resolving 10 severe HUS cases stemming from the 2006 Dole Spinach E. coli outbreak and investigating cases stemming from the PM Beef Holding and the more recent Cargill E. coli recall.  Regarding the “hamburger issue,” the New York Times this morning wrote about the E. coli issue:

Many Red Flags Preceded a Recall of Hamburger

This graphic says it all:

A couple of the best lines:

In the case of Topps, the government has determined that the company reduced its testing of ground beef and neglected other safety measures in the months before the recall.

Two years ago, after an 8-year-old girl in Albany County, N.Y., was sickened by Topps ground beef, the Agriculture Department scrutinized the Elizabeth plant and found relatively few problems [we sued on this kid’s behalf and thought Topps got the message]. But since then, the department said, Topps cut its microbial testing on finished ground beef from once a month to three times a year, a level the department considers inadequate.

Federal investigators said they had recently learned that the company failed to require adequate testing on the raw beef it bought from its domestic suppliers, and it sometimes mixed tested and untested meat in its grinding machines.

Why would Topps risk poisoning customers by cutting back on testing and using product that was not tested at all?  Mixing product so you could not tell where the meat came from?  Where was the cost/benefit? Perhaps the pressure to fulfill orders for Wal-Mart, et al was more important than safety? Perhaps the drive by Wal-Mart for the lowest prices gave Topps no financial room to risk testing (and rejecting) contaminated meat? Testing and rejecting would have required Wal-Mart to be an understanding customer – Right!

In August 2006 I warned in my blog about the current of the increase in hamburger recalls and illnesses that became a wave in June 2007.