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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

How Big is Cargill’s Food Poisoning Problem?

Almost four years ago I penned – “Cargill, getting reacquainted with the Enemy” – in response to Cargill recalling nearly 2,000,000 pounds of E. coli O157:H7 tainted hamburger (that is nearly enough to give every New Yorker a quarter pounder) in October and November of 2007.

As I said then it was and is not the first time that Cargill or one of its subsidiaries has been in my legal sights.  Here is a sample platter:

Milwaukee will not soon forget the hundreds sickened (some with hemolytic uremic syndrome) and the death of a young child due to cross-contamination of “tri-tips” with a salad bar.  We represented dozen of those sickened and briefed and argued the landmark case – Kriefall vs. Sizzler and Excel.  Interestingly, in 1993 the same product sickened dozens in Oregon in nearly the same way. 

In 2001, our clients and Alexander’s parents, purchased hamburger patties on December 17, 2000, at the Sam’s Club in Duluth, Georgia, where the patties are sold under the trade name “American Chef’s Selection.” Because Alexander was the only person in the family to eat one of the patties, and the only one to become ill, officials with the Gwinnett County Health Department quickly suspected that the patties were contaminated. Georgia’s Public Health Laboratory in conjunction with the Center performed microbiological tests on the patties for Disease Control in Atlanta. The lab isolated E. coli O157:H7 from the patties, and determined that it was an exact genetic match with the E. coli O157:H7 that had been isolated from Alexander’s stool culture while he was in the hospital.

Again, we represented many of the 57 traced to Emmpak’s Peck Meats Packing division in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Health officials are now calling a leftover hamburger found in Woodson’s refrigerator the “miracle burger” because it enabled them to trace the infections to Emmpak ground beef through genetic testing. The same E. coli strain that caused one client’s illness is the one that led to Emmpak’s 400,000-pound ground beef recall on October 1. That recall was expanded to 2.8 million pounds on October 3.

Screen Shot 2011-08-06 at 7.50.05 PM.pngAnd then there was:

We filed multiple lawsuits against Cargill on behalf on most of the severely injured in the outbreak that sickened dozens in several states.  The most grievously sickened victim was Stephanie Smith, who developed HUS and spent months in a medically induced coma.  The former dance instructor was paralyzed from the waist down, and both her kidney function and cognitive abilities were impaired.  Michael Moss of the New York Times won a Pulitzer Prize for the article he wrote about Stephanie Smith and the background of the beef that went into the burger that made her sick.  Her lawsuit was settled in May 2010 for an undisclosed sum.

And that was just E. coli.  Now we now know its Cargill’s ground turkey that is at the epicenter of the 26 states, 78 illnesses Salmonella Heidelberg outbreak.  Including the present ground turkey Salmonella outbreak and recall of 36,000,000 pounds of turkey, Cargill ground meat has been the source of Salmonella outbreaks and recalls over the last few years:

So, I guess the question are whether and when Cargill is going to learn that recalls are expensive and poisoning your customers is really a bad idea.  I think I will save a list of all the recalls (you can search for them yourself at FSIS) for another day.