SEATTLE, Wa —– Public health officials in Washington DC, California and Wisconsin are playing a dangerous game with American consumers by refusing to reveal the specific stores or restaurants that may have served meat contaminated by toxic E. coli, says the Seattle lawyer who represents victims of food-borne illness.

‘The public needs to know who may have poisoned their kids,’ said Bill Marler, managing partner of the Marler Clark law firm in Seattle.

Marler spoke up Sunday after health officials revealed that 188,000 pounds of ground beef was being recalled by the Rochester Meat Company, a Minnesota firm, because it has been contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.  This appears to be the first major recall of 2008.  2007 set a recent record for recalls – topping twenty recalls of over 33 million pounds of meat.

While announcing the nationwide recall, officials have refused to reveal the name of the restaurant or other outlets believed to have served the meat to consumers.  That, Marler says, means that consumers who may be at risk of contracting potentially fatal food-poisoning have no way of knowing – until they get sick.

He called on Dr. Richard A. Raymond, head of Federal Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS), Kevin R. Hayden, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services, and Dr. Mark Horton, director of the California Department of Public Health, to immediately disclose the names and locations of retail outlets that have been associated with the contaminated meat.

The Federal Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS) persuaded Rochester Meat Company to issue the recall after investigations revealed that at least six people have been sickened in Wisconsin and California.

‘We are hearing from the environmental health community that a national chain restaurant, or restaurants are connected with this recall,’ Marler said. ‘If so, these public officials are playing a very dangerous game. They are betting that nobody else gets sick because they had no way of knowing they were at risk.’

Marler said there are indications that state officials know of one or more restaurants where contaminated meat has been served and where consumers already have been sickened.  ‘The public has a right to know the name of that establishment and its involved locations, ‘ said Marler. ‘ If more than one is involved, the public has a right to know that too.’

E. coli O157:H7 is a toxic bacteria that shows up in the intestines of cows, where it can infect ground beef or many other food products. In recent years, outbreaks of E. coli have sickened thousands of people in virtually every state, and killed dozens.  Young children and elderly with compromised immune systems are particularly at risk.

The recalled ground beef was produced on October 30, 2007 and November 6, 2007 for sale to restaurants and food service institutions.  The restaurants have been serving ground beef supplied by a company with a history of E. coli problems, Marler said. This is the third recall of ground beef by the Minnesota firm since 1996. Its previous recalls were for 152,000 pounds and 30,000 pounds, according to FSIS records. Only a fraction of the contaminated beef was recovered in those recalls.