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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Cargill linked to 10 major outbreaks, 10 deaths, three stillbirths and 347 illnesses

1993 – Cargill supplied meat to Northwest Sizzler restaurants that was implicated in an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 infection involving 39 confirmed and 54 probable cases. Public health investigators said the illnesses were the result of cross-contamination between raw Cargill Tri-tips and salad bar ingredients.

2000 – Cargill provided meat to Sizzler restaurants linked to an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 illnesses that killed one person and sickened that 62.  

2000 – Sliced turkey from a Cargill processing plant in Texas was found to be the source of a multi-state outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes. The company recalled 16 million pounds of turkey after reports of infection that eventually included seven deaths and 29 illnesses. Eight of the case patients were pregnant and three miscarriages/stillbirths were attributed to the contaminated turkey. 

2001 – Cargill ground beef patties tested positive for E. coli O157:H7 after a child from Georgia became ill. Three of the patties were purchased at Kroger and one from Sam’s Club, but all of the ill children and the tested meat had genetically indistinguishable strains of E. coli. Emmpak recalled 254,000 pounds of potentially contaminated ground beef.

2002 – Antibiotic-resistant Salmonella Newport was found in ground beef from Emmpak, a Cargill subsidiary. The CDC reported one fatality, 47 illnesses and 12 hospitalizations linked to consumption of the ground beef. Emmpak recalled a record 2.8 million pounds of potentially contaminated ground beef.

2007 – After Minnesota health officials traced 46 E. coli O157:H7 illnesses to ground beef patties, Cargill Meat Solutions Corporation recalled 845,000 pounds of frozen ground beef patties from retail locations across the U.S.

2007 – Cargill recalled 1,084,384 pounds of ground beef after federal tests detected E. coli O157:H7 in the product.  No illnesses were associated with this recall.

2008 – Beef cheek produced by Beef Packers, a Cargill subsidiary, tested positive for E. coli O157:H7, prompting a 1,560 pound recall.  No illnesses were associated with this recall.

2009 –  At least 40 cases of Salmonella Newport infection were linked to Beef Packers ground beef in the summer, sparking a  summertime recall of 830,000 pounds of ground beef.  Then, in December, more Salmonella illnesses tied to the producer’s meat led to a recall of 20,000 pounds of products.  Both recalls involved contamination with drug-resistant Salmonella bacteria.  

2010 – Cargill Meat Solutions recalled 8,500 pounds of ground beef after reports of illnesses caused by E. coli O26, a rare strain of the bacteria that produces the same Shiga-like toxin as the more common E. coli O157:H7.  The meat was distributed by BJ’s Wholesale Club.

2011 – Cargill Meat Solutions recalled 36 million pounds of ground turkey linked to an outbreak of drug-resistant Salmonella Heidelberg. Current outbreak numbers: one dead, 78 ill, 22 hospitalized.

Since 1993, Cargill has been the source of contaminated meat implicated in at least 10 major outbreaks, 10 deaths, three stillbirths and 347 illnesses.  (Thanks Epi intern, Marijke Schwarz Smith)

  • Minkpuppy

    Wow. What is there to say?

  • Jennifer Clarke

    How is it that the FDA/USDA has let them stay in business?

  • Minkpuppy

    Jennifer,

    Cargill is a huge company with dozens of plants and subsidiaries. Only a handful of them have had recalls or have been related to outbreaks. Also, the recalls are entirely voluntary. USDA can’t force anything, it can only “suggest”. It was surprising that the suggestion was followed in this case.

    Just because a plant has a recall, it doesn’t mean USDA can put them out of business. Only inspection can be withdrawn at individual plants, not company -wide. The inspectors go back in once the plant has “fixed” the problem”. Inspection withdrawal is very different than shutting a company down. It’s usually temporary. Permanent plant closures involve criminal cases which is unlikely to happen here. They’ll just fire the knuckleheads that broke the law and replace them. USDA would have to prove that this corporate offices knew of the lawbreaking and even ordered it. That’s extremely hard to prove in large companies. It’s much more likely to prove that the individual plant management ignored test results and shipped adulterated product so he/she wouldn’t get blasted for losing money.

    There’s also this little thing called due process that USDA has to follow in these cases. The plant has the right to appeal any regulatory action taken. There has to be blatant violations going on like horrible insanitary conditions, failure to implement their HACCP plan etc. in addition to the recall before inspection can be withdrawn. Along every step of the way, the plant has an opportunity to answer the charges and make corrections. If the USDA finds those changes and corrective actions to be acceptable, the plant gets to carry on, business as usual. If not, inspectors are yanked. It’s nothing like what FDA does.

    Food Safety Assessments are automatic everytime something like this happens and when they have a positive test result. Most of the time, they can’t pinpoint what went wrong in the process. The plants are doing everything they said they would do and they’re not operating in filthy conditions. In addition, many of them implement new interventions to try to prevent problems in the future. In that sense, HACCP does work. Just not very well for slaughter plants.

    A recall will put a smaller company out of business. Cargill is huge. They’ll take a hit for a short time and then be back to profits in no time.

    What interests me is that Cargill has been linked to so many recalls in recent years. I’d like to see a comparison to other meat companies. Do they top the list or are they right in line with everyone else? It’s starting to look like company-wide cultural attitude that’s not taking food safety as seriously as they say they are.

  • Doc Mudd

    Before you all jump down my throat here, I’m not defending Cargill, but wondering about the context of all of these big-assed numbers.
    In the above article I count nearly 60 million pounds of recalled product since 1993 — that’s a lot of meat (maybe 1500 truckloads).
    Can’t find much detail, but just one of Cargill’s beef plants (High River) processes 4000 head of cattle daily — that’s maybe about 3 million lbs product per day. What does the entire Cargill system produce and distribute…maybe 4 or 5 times that volume (probably more).
    Anyway, in very round numbers the volume of tainted product identified in 10 recalls during the past 20 years is equivalent to only about a week’s production during that entire 2 decade run…or less than one-tenth of one percent.
    Any amount of tainted product, however little, is too much. But, even rabid KoolAid slurping industry haters (you know who you are) have to admit the numbers are impressive, both the sheer volume of production and also the remarkably small proportion recalled. I only wish I always operated at that level of accuracy — at anything. Even with imaginary evil conspirators helping me at every twist and turn, well, there’s no assurance I could achieve that level of performance and keep it up for almost 20 years. Kinda amazing, I must admit.
    OK, now we can all get back to industry bashing. I was just curious about the big picture, is all.
    Doc