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Topps Frozen Beef E. Coli Outbreak Spreads to 8 States, Sickens 21

Federal Investigators Begin Probe of Topps' New Jersey Plant, Suppliers

Sep 28, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP E. coli contaminated Topps Meat Company frozen beef has already sickened 21 people around the country, leading federal officials to launch an investigation of the company’s plant and suppliers.   Earlier this week, Topps recalled more than 300,000 pounds of frozen beef patties when six people in New York became sick after eating them.  Tests of a package of Topps patties found in one victim’s freezer test positive for E. coli contamination.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 21 people in 8 states may have become ill after eating E. coli-laced Topps frozen beef patties.  Six people in Pennsylvania have been stricken with E. coli poisoning, and at least two are hospitalized.  In New York, six people became ill, and three are hospitalized.   Ohio and Maine have each reported one case of E. coli poisoning, and officials in Maine are investigating 4 other possible cases. Other victims of this E. coli strain have been reported in  Connecticut, Indiana, Florida and New Jersey.

In Florida, the parents of a 15-year-old girl who was diagnosed with E. coli after eating tainted Topps meat have sued the retailer where they purchased the product.  The girl’s mother said she purchased Topps quarter pound patties from a Wal-Mart in Pembroke Pines, Florida on August 15.  Shortly after the girl ate one of the burgers, she began suffering from diarrhea, severe cramping, fatigue and dehydration.  She was diagnosed with E. coli and spent several weeks undergoing dialysis.  The parents’ lawsuit said their daughter sustained permanent kidney damage and will need to be monitored for the rest of her life.  They are seeking financial damages from Wal-Mart for selling the beef.

On Tuesday, Topps recalled 332,000 pounds of E. coli tainted beef, after the outbreak was detected in New York State.   The recall included 21 different products sold nationwide.   Topps is the leading US manufacturer of frozen hamburgers. The US Department of Agriculture is investigating the company’s Elizabeth New Jersey facility, as well as those of it suppliers to see what controls were in place to prevent E. coli contamination.

E. coli is a deadly bacteria that can cause bloody diarrhea and dehydration.  Young children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems are particularly vulnerable to its effects.   In some rare instances, the disease can progress to the point of kidney failure and death.  While most people who suffer from E. coli poisoning recover within 7 to 10 days, extreme cases can require blood transfusions and dialysis treatments.

The Topps Meat Company E. coli outbreak is just the latest in a string of E. coli related beef recalls this summer.  In August, Interstate Meats of Oregon issued a recall for more than 41,000 pounds of ground beef that was linked to an outbreak of E. coli poisoning in the Pacific Northwest. Nine people, including one child, became sick with E. coli after eating ground beef distributed by the company. In June, United Food Group recalled 5 million pounds of meat.  That recall was followed by another that involved 40,000 lbs of E. coli-tainted beef products produced by Tyson Fresh Meat, Inc.

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