On December 1, 2000, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) issued a press release stating that 17 Minnesota citizens had been infected with the same strain of the E. coli O157:H7 bacteria during November 2000. Most of the individuals consumed ground beef from SuperValu/Cub Food stores, and days later began to show signs of infection. At the urging of state health officials, SuperValu/Cub Foods removed all fresh ground beef products from its stores in affected areas within Minnesota.
Three days later, on December 4, USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (“FSIS”), an agency within the United States Department of Agriculture (“USDA”), stated in a Class I alert that Green Bay Dressed Beef, Green Bay, Wisconsin the meat supplier doing business as American Foods Group (“AFG”), was, at the suggestion of the FSIS, recalling 1.1 million pounds of potentially contaminated ground beef. The recalled meat was manufactured at AFG’s Wisconsin meat plants, and supplied to stores throughout the Midwest and Southeast United States. The FSIS recall was initiated requested that after a preliminary investigations by both the MDH and the FSIS indicated that ground beef produced at the plant in early November 2000 was likely contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 bacteria.
On December 5, a preliminary Wisconsin Department of Public Health (“WDPH”), linked three reports of Wisconsin E. coli O157:H7 to the cases addressed in the MDH release of December 1. The WDPH release implicated the same source of the infections as the MDH and FSIS: ground beef processed by AFG in November 2000 and sold at Cub Food Stores.
The final report completed and released by the Minnesota Department of Public Health on the November 2000 outbreak was stated in its conclusion that:
This was a multi-state outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 infections caused by ground beef produced by American Foods Group in Minnesota AFG was implicated through store grind records for retail ground beef from which E. coli O157:H7 had been isolated. In all five instances in which non-AFG product yielded E. coli O157:H7, a positive AFG product was ground within 35 minutes prior, suggesting cross-contamination only from AFG product to non-AFG product. The number of separate stores involved in Minnesota indicates that contamination did not originate within the individual stores. Since ground beef is shipped to individual stores in intact chubs from SuperValu’s warehouse, and two separate SuperValu warehouses were involved (in Minnesota and Wisconsin) the contamination of the ground beef could not have originated within the SuperValu distribution system. Rather, the AFG plant (establishment 410) was the only common point in the distribution system that could explain all of the cases associated with SuperValu. The Ohio cases [that] purchased ground beef from Krogers further implicated the AFG plant as the source of the contamination.
The November/December 2000 recall urged by the FSIS for meat products made by AFG and sold by Cub Foods was, unfortunately, not an isolated occurrence. Two years earlier, in December 1998, a recall was issued for 1,000 pounds of beef manufactured by AFG and distributed to Cub Foods stores in the Chicago, Illinois, area after random testing showed that meat in one of the stores was contaminated with E. coli O157:H7. Again, in December 1999, a recall of ground beef was made after government inspectors found contamination at the plant. Finally the most recent recall for over half a million pounds of ground beef manufactured by AFG, was in August 2001.