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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

E. coli O157:H7 Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome Case Settled

A confidential settlement was reach yesterday in mediation between Nebraska Beef, Ltd., an Omaha-area beef processor, and a young child severely sickened with hemolytic uremic syndrome by E. coli O157:H7.

On June 30, 2008 recalled approximately 531,707 pounds of ground beef products because the meat was potentially contaminated by E. coli O157:H7. On June 24, 2008, the CDC announced an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 illnesses among 24 residents of Michigan and Ohio. The next day, the CDC announced that the number of outbreak linked cases had grown to 32, and that ground beef sold at Kroger stores, the Cincinnati based grocery chain, was the likely outbreak vehicle. That afternoon, Kroger recalled all varieties and weights of ground beef products bearing a Kroger label sold between May 21 and June 8 at Michigan and Central and Northwestern Ohio Kroger retail establishments. By June 26, the outbreak had claimed 33 victims; and by June 30, the CDC counted 35 confirmed cases linked to ground beef sold by Kroger, with 19 people hospitalized and 1 known case of hemolytic uremic syndrome. On July 1, the CDC announced that 38 people had now been infected in Ohio and Michigan; on July 3, the number rose to 41. That day, Nebraska Beef expanded its recall “to include all beef manufacturing trimmings and other products intended for use in raw ground beef produced between May 16 and June 26.” The massive recall now totaled an estimated 5.3 million pounds of beef. In an FSIS press release the same day, it was reported:

FSIS has concluded that the production practices employed by Nebraska Beef, Ltd. are insufficient to effectively control E. coli O157:H7 in their beef products that are intended for grinding. The products subject to recall may have been produced under insanitary conditions.

Meanwhile, further epidemiological investigation revealed that the outbreak had spread beyond the states of Michigan and Ohio. On July 15, the CDC announced that New York, Indiana, and Kentucky had reported outbreak cases as well—i.e. individuals with a stool sample that was positive for a strain of E. coli O157:H7 that was indistinguishable from the patterns detected in recalled beef products and in other already-recognized outbreak cases. The next day, the CDC reported that the State of Georgia had a case too, bringing the total to 45 victims nationally. But Nebraska Beef’s contaminated beef products had spread even further than that into the stream of commerce, and unfortunately into the homes of consumers. On August 8, 2008, Nebraska Beef announced yet another massive recall. This time, the troubled company recalled approximately 1.2 million pounds of primal cuts, subprimal cuts and boxed beef due to potential E. coli O157:H7 contamination.

The total amount of beef products recalled by Nebraska Beef from June to August 2008 was 6,660,000 pounds. The contaminated beef subject to Nebraska Beef’s various recalls ultimately caused at least 80 illnesses in 16 states and Canada.