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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Kroger Recalls Meat from 20 States Due to E. coli Risk – Will Nebraska Beef Recall Even More than the 265 tons in the Morning?

Today, Kroger expanded its recall of some ground beef products to its stores in more than 20 states, saying the meat may be contaminated with E. coli.  Kroger’s recall stems from meat obtained from Nebraska Beef Ltd. that has been linked to some 50 illnesses reported in Michigan and Ohio between May 31 and June 8.  Nebraska Beef has recalled from wholesalers and other processing companies nearly 532,000 pounds of meat produced on five dates between May 16 and June 24.  Interestingly, Nebraska Beef’s recall is for trim and intact cuts of meat, but not hamburger.  Does Nebraska Beef grind Hamburger?  If so, where and why no recall of it?  Perhaps that will be the recall of the day?

Kroger initiated a recall June 25 for Kroger stores in Michigan and in central and northern Ohio.  The expanded recall includes ground beef sold at Fred Meyer, QFC, Ralphs, Smith’s, Baker’s, King Soopers, City Markets, Hilander, Owen’s, Pay Less and Scott’s with overlapping sell-by dates from mid-May through mid-July.

I did speak to Laura Gunderson of the Portland Oregonian in story about the “Beef Recall Hits Oregon and Washington.” In our discussion about Nebraska Beef’s past litigation and its Press Statement of a few days ago she wrote:

In a statement issued with the recall, Nebraska Beef officials wrote, "Since inception in 1995, the company has processed over 10 billion pounds of product without a confirmed customer illness."

But a Seattle lawyer isn’t swayed.

Bill Marler, whose firm specializes in food-poisoning cases, sued Kroger and Nebraska Beef this week on behalf of a consumer who he said tested positive for E. coli O157:H7 after eating ground beef sold at a Kroger store in Dublin, Ohio.

Marler also is suing Nebraska Beef over a 2006 E. coli outbreak after a church potluck in Minnesota that killed a 73-year-old woman and sickened 16 other people. In that case, Marler said, he found Nebraska Beef had detected trimmings, such as fat and bone, contaminated with E. coli. The trimmings were tossed, Marler said, but not the actual meat that had been distributed. The meat, Marler said, was later genetically matched to some of the sick churchgoers’ stools.

The company, in turn, sued its distributors and the church, Salem Lutheran of Longville, Minn. The company’s legal team had the church’s pastor give a deposition last week, Marler said.

In the past, Nebraska Beef’s representatives have pointed out that the church women’s auxiliary may have introduced contamination as they molded meatballs for a monthly fundraiser.

Marler said it would be uncommon for a slaughterhouse to perform an unnecessary recall.
"If they didn’t sicken people," he said, referring to Nebraska Beef’s statement earlier this week, "why would they voluntarily withdraw the meat?"

Nebraska Beef successfully sued the USDA in January 2003 to block the federal agency from shutting down one of its plants after the agency said it found E. coli-contaminated meat at a company subsidiary. The agency argued that serious food-safety violations warranted closure of the plant, which it said had a documented history of unsanitary conditions and violations.

Nebraska Beef argued that a closure could cost it $2.7 million a day and 1,100 jobs and drive the company out of business.

A federal judge granted Nebraska Beef a restraining order and a few weeks later the company agreed to a settlement with the agency that included additional food-safety monitoring. Soon after, the USDA dinged the company with nearly 60 noncompliance reports.

In May 2007, Nebraska Beef sued the agency — and nine of its employees — to argue that the inspectors had unfairly targeted its plant. The case was later dismissed.