E. coli Lawsuit Filed in Utah

The parents of a boy who fell ill due to <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/topics/overview/e_coli_escherichia_coli">E. coli contamination just filed a lawsuit against National Steak and Poultry, an Oklahoma meat-manufacturing facility, reported the Salt Lake Tribune. This appears to be the first legal action following an E. coli outbreak that sickened 21 people in a multi-state outbreak, said the Salt Lake Tribune.

The 14-year-old boy, identified as “CD,” became seriously ill after eating infected meat in October, according to the suit filed in 3rd District Court, said the Salt Lake Tribune. The boy was diagnosed with gastrointestinal bleeding and remained in the hospital for two days. Some companies, only identified as “John Doe” companies were also named as having been involved in meat distribution, added the Salt Lake Tribune.

The recall was announced on Christmas Eve, 2009 and involved 248,000 pounds of beef products potentially contaminated with E. coli, said the Salt Lake Tribune, which explained that the majority of meat went to restaurants. Most people became ill between mid-October and late November and involved 16 states: Utah, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Washington state.

In December, we wrote that the E. coli outbreak prompted the recall of beef products produced by National Steak and Poultry of Owasso, Oklahoma. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS) said the recalled beef might be tainted with E. coli O157:H7 and was associated with a cluster of illnesses in a number of states. Recalled products included steaks and sirloin tips, said the Washington Post previously.

The FSIS classified the recall as a Class I, meaning that the risk of serious illness was high. According to the agency, the E. coli contamination likely originated with tainted beef used for chopped steak that mixed with other meat products at the plant, reported the Washington Post.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considered the outbreak noteworthy because this was the fourth pathogenic outbreak linked to “mechanically tenderized beef” in the past nine years, said the Washington Post. The process of mechanical tenderization involves softening tough beef cuts “by hammering … meat with metal needles or blades that break up muscle fibers and connective tissue,” a process called “needling,” explained the Washington Post.

Needling is typically employed to further tenderize meat cooked at plants prior to being shipped to restaurants, an issue for consumer advocates who feel this process brings pathogens from the outside to the interior of the meat, a health concern when serving rare meat that is not cooked to sufficient internal temperatures to kill off pathogens, said the Washington Post.

“The USDA has been looking at this for a long time…. People have proposed ways to address it and nothing was done about it in the Clinton administration, the Bush administration and, now, the Obama administration….” said Carol L. Tucker-Foreman of Consumer Federation of America, part of a coalition that wrote to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in June about needled meat, quoted the Washington Post.

E. coli O157:H7 is a potentially deadly bacterium that can cause bloody diarrhea, dehydration, and in the most severe cases, kidney failure. The very young, seniors, and persons with weak immune systems are the most susceptible to food borne illness.

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