Cargill Settles E. coli Lawsuit

Earlier this year we wrote that according to papers filed in federal court, food giant Cargill, admitted that its ground beef was at the root of a large <"">E. coli outbreak.

Now, a woman from Minnesota who fell seriously ill after consuming a tainted burger has reached a settlement with Cargill’s meatpacking group, according to an announcement issued by the plaintiff and defense, said The Associated Press (AP). The woman, Stephanie Smith, 23, and Cargill announced that while the settlement terms are confidential, Ms. Smith will be provided for by Cargill for her lifetime, said the AP.

We previously wrote that this was part of a lawsuit seeking $100 million. Smith has been in rehab for two years; amassed about $2 million in medical bills; and is now in a wheelchair, said SCTimes previously. Smith was a children’s dance instructor at the time of her illness and was subsequently left paralyzed and suffering from cognitive problems and kidney damage, the AP wrote. Smith also suffered from other significant medical issues including seizures and kidney failure and was placed in a three-month medically-induced coma.

Cargill Meat Solutions Corporation, which is based in Wichita, Kansas and is a unit of Minnetonka-based Cargill Inc., produced the tainted meat patty said the AP. The story was a New York Times series that later won a Pulitzer Prize, prompted members of Congress to seek increased food safety, and resulted in a pledge from Tom Vilsack, Agriculture Secretary, to increase efforts to fight the dangerous and deadly E. coli pathogen, said the AP.

Stephenie Smith’s lawsuit is not the first to be settled in the Cargill E. coli contamination debacle. In October, we reported that the parents of a girl who was hospitalized for over one month as a result of eating E. coli contaminated hamburger meat had also reached a settlement with Cargill.

The 11-year-old fell ill in 2007 after she ate a contaminated hamburger from Cargill Meat Solutions Corporation, said MPR.The girl spent three weeks on kidney dialysis and her family racked up about $350,000 in medical bills, said MPR. It seems that the young girl developed a serious kidney disease (HUS) that can lead to renal failure and long-term kidney problems.

The E. coli contamination led to a massive—845,000 pound—recall of frozen ground beef parties. Prior to the 2007 E. Coli outbreak, federal inspectors repeatedly found that Cargill was violating its own safety procedures in handling ground beef, but it imposed no fines or sanctions, according to the New York Times, previously. After the outbreak was detected, federal inspectors conducted spot checks at 224 meat plants and found serious problems at 55 that were failing to follow their own safety plans. These problems occurred even though the USDA had been monitoring these plants. The 2007 E. coli O157:H7 outbreak sickened more than 900 people.

E. coli are a group of bacteria found in animal intestines and feces. While some strains are necessary for digestion; some are harmful, deadly, and toxin producing and part of a group of E. coli called Verocytotoxigenic E. coli, or VTECs, also known as Shiga-producing E. coli. Of particular concern is the virulent, sometimes deadly E. coli O157:H7 strain that is part of this group and is generally found to be the culprit in E. coli-related food-borne illness outbreak.

E. coli may cause fatal blood poisoning, cystitis, deadly septicemia, and death. Symptoms of E. coli infection include stomach cramps and watery diarrhea that may turn bloody within one to three days. E. coli taints meat through improper butchering and processing practices and, once released in the body, produces the Shiga-producing toxins that have been linked to kidney damage in young children, and can also lead to kidney failure and death.

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