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E. Coli Poisoning Kills New Jersey Boy as Reports of Food Contamination Skyrocket

Jun 27, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP E. Coli poisoning has killed a 7-year-old New Jersey boy, and state health officials are investigating the possibility that the child contracted the illness by eating food sold at his school.  E. Coli is a potentially deadly bacterium that causes bloody diarrhea and dehydration, and possibly death. Young children, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems face the most danger from E. Coli.  As cases of food-borne illnesses reach an all-time high, this incident once again brings attention to the poor state of food safety procedures in the US.

E. Coli contamination involving more than 6 million pounds of beef has been responsible for eight separate food recalls already this year.  Considering that in 2006, there were only 8 total E. Coli related recalls involving 156,000 pounds of beef, this year’s numbers are alarming.  Beef manufactured by United Food Group has accounted for 5 million pounds of the meat recall, while Tyson Fresh Meat, Inc. was forced to recall 40,000 pounds of its meat because of E. Coli contamination.  Both recalls were initiated late last month.  Health officials said 14 people in six Western states were sickened by the contaminated meat, but concede that the number could be higher as not all cases of E. Coli poisoning are reported.

The reason for the spike in E. Coli contamination is unclear, although many experts fault both the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), as well as the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) for poor oversight.  They point to the fact that in the past three years, the number of scientists employed by the FDA’s food division dropped from 1,000 to 800.   Smaller meat producers have charged that the USDA often ignores problems at plants operated by food giants like Tyson and United foods, while at the same time coming down hard on smaller operations when violations are found.

Salmonella and E. Coli are far from the only problems plaguing the US food supply. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), contaminated foods cause 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths each year.  In the past several years, Americans endured Salmonella contamination in peanut butter, E-Coli tainted spinach, and green onions infected with Hepatitis A.  And recently, new research pointed to vacuum-packed foods as being virtual incubators for Listeria contamination.  Listeria, which kills 25-percent of the people it infects, thrives in oxygen-deprived environments like vacuum packed containers.  It can lead to meningitis, miscarriages and stillbirths.   Just last week two Listeria-related recalls were issued. The first was for salmon and cheese spreads manufactured by Bright Water Seafoods of Charlotte, North Carolina after Listeria contamination was discovered.  A second involved diced onions sold at Trader Joe’s stores sold in Arizona, California, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington.  So far, no illnesses have been reported in those cases.

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