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E. Coli Tainted Kroger Ground Beef Blamed for 35 Illnesses

Jun 27, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP On Wednesday, the  Kroger Company issued a ground beef recall, but only after several Michigan and Ohio health department announcements that E. coli outbreaks in those states were linked to its tainted beef.  By that time, the E. Coli-tainted Kroger ground beef had sickened dozens.  Now, it has been reported that since the recall was announced, there have been 12 additional reports of E. coli food poisoning - four more in Ohio, and another 8 in Michigan - bringing the total to at least 35.   All those stricken have been infected with the same strain of E. coli as that found in the contaminated Kroger meat,  and the include at least 14 hospitalizations.  One patient developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a type of kidney failure.

The Kroger recall
includes all ground beef products with sell-by dates between May 21 and June 8.  Kroger still has not released figures on the number of meat suppliers it works with to supply its over 2,470 supermarkets and stores in 31 states.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service  (FSIS) followed suit and is also not releasing information about the number or names of suppliers involved in the investigation, deferring to Kroger's proprietary business relations with such firms.

Kroger has been involved in no less than four ground beef recalls involving meat suppliers and processors, according to its own news release archives.  In July 2002, Kroger recalled all of its ground beef products because one of its suppliers, ConAgra Beef—one of the nation's largest beef processors—discovered E. coli in a sample of its meat.  In August 2001 and December 2000, Kroger recalled ground beef because meat from American Foods Group Inc.—a Green Bay Wisconsin-based wholesale meat supplier—was found to have the same strain of bacteria.  Immediately following the 2001 recall, Kroger recalled ground beef after IBP Inc., a wholesale meat supplier based in Dakota City, Nebraska, found E. coli in some of its meat products.

Escherichia coli is a relatively common bacteria found in the human digestive tract and, while normally harmless, some strains—such as those linked to food poisoning, like the virulent Escherichia coli 0157:H7 in this outbreak—are extremely serious and can cause fatal blood poisoning, cystitis, and deadly septicemia.  Because many infected with the bacteria experience less severe symptoms, many cases are never reported.

In the US, E. coli is the leading cause of food-borne illness and about 73,000 people are infected and 61 people die from E. coli annually; last year, over 22 million pounds of beef and vegetables were recalled due to E. coli outbreaks.  The problem is difficult to police because the food-surveillance system is outdated, under-funded, and overwhelmed by the emergence of mega-farms, -distribution centers, and -transporters.  Scientists have expressed concern that infections from antibiotic resistant E. coli bacteria are now spreading and several countries are reporting cases.  Worse, emerging data confirms the negative health effects of E. coli can remain for months and years; can have long-term, lasting effects; and can appear months or years after the original illness.

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