In April of 2005, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that the incidence of E. coli O157:H7 infection traced to ground beef products had significantly declined. CDC attributed the decline to the implementation of a new set of recommendations from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) in 2002 and the beef industry’s subsequent enhancement of food safety systems, including testing and control measures. In a press release issued on April 14, 2005, USDA Secretary Mike Johanns stated:

“The continued reduction in illnesses from E. coli O157 is a tremendous success story and we are committed to continuing this positive trend in the future. These results demonstrate that through innovative policies and strong and consistent enforcement of inspection laws, we are protecting the public’s health through a safer food supply.”

It is true that since 2002, there has been a general decline in the number of E. coli cases traced to red meat, and an increase in the number of E. coli cases traced to fresh produce, namely bagged lettuce and spinach. But in the last weeks E. coli outbreaks traced to beef products have underscored the importance of continued efforts to protect the public from E. coli in meat.

1.    On June 4, FSIS warned consumers to discard ground beef products produced by United Food Group, LLC, of Vernon, California, after its products were traced as the source of an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak. United Food Group issued a recall of approximately 75,000 pounds of potentially contaminated ground beef, which was confirmed as the source of at least twelve E. coli O157:H7 illnesses among residents of several Western states and British Columbia. Most of the products were sold under the Moran’s label at Albertsons stores in California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming and Save-A-Lot stores in Arizona, California, and Nevada.

2.    On May 29, the Fresno County Department of Community Health issued a press release stating that it was investigating an E. coli outbreak among Fresno County residents. As of May 31, eleven people had been confirmed ill with E. coli O157:H7 infections as part of the outbreak, and the Health Department had inspected the “Meat Market” in Northwest Fresno, a potential source of the outbreak. The outbreak investigation is ongoing.

3.    On May 11, FSIS announced that Davis Creek Meats and Seafood of Kalamazoo, Michigan, was recalling approximately 129,000 pounds of beef products due to possible contamination with E. coli O157:H7. The recall was issued in response to a Michigan Department of Community Health investigation into the E. coli illnesses of two Michigan residents. The potentially contaminated beef products were distributed in Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

4.    On May 10, FSIS issued a recall notice to consumers who may have purchased ground beef products made with beef trim products produced by PM Beef Holdings, LLC, of Windom, Minnesota. PM Beef Holdings recalled approximately 117,500 pounds of beef trim products, which were sold to distributors and retail outlets in Arizona, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin. The beef trim products were subsequently ground and sold under different retail names. Minnesota and Wisconsin health officials traced at least seven E. coli illnesses to consumption of the ground beef products, which were purchased at Lunds or Byerly’s stores in the two states.

5.    On April 20, FSIS announced the recall of 107,900 pounds of frozen ground beef products produced by Richwood Meat Co., of Merced, California, stating that the California Department of Health Services had discovered E. coli contamination during an investigation. The ground beef products were distributed to stores in Arizona, California, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington.

6.    Also on April 20, FSIS and the Pennsylvania Department of Health warned consumers that steak products produced by HFX, Inc. of South Claysburg, Pennsylvania, and sold at Hoss’s Family Steak and Sea Restaurants, a Pennsylvania-based restaurant chain, were potentially contaminated with E. coli O157:H7. The announcement came after an investigation linked several E. coli illnesses to consumption of the steaks at Hoss’s. HFX recalled approximately 4,900 pounds of meat products.

Marler Clark has been retained by victims of many pf the above-listed E. coli outbreaks, and has been contacted by several more who are seeking legal representation. Bill Marler, managing partner of Marler Clark, commented on the recent outbreaks: “This recent up-tick in E. coli cases traced to meat products is certainly cause for concern. I hope we’re not seeing a reversal in all the progress that has been made in recent years to curb E. coli contamination in meat processing plants.”