Sep 11, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP
An E. coli outbreak in the Pacific Northwest linked to tainted ground beef has resulted in what will surely be the first of several lawsuits. A man from Washington State is suing Interstate Meats of Oregon, claiming that ground beef packaged by the company left him with an E. coli infection that caused him to spend three days in the hospital. Last week, Interstate Meats recalled 41,000 pounds of meat after it was linked to an outbreak of E. coli that left several people sick.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), E. coli is one of the leading causes of food borne illness in the U.S. The CDC estimates that the food borne bacteria causes at least 73,000 cases of infection and 61 deaths every year. But the number could be much higher, because many cases of E. coli poisoning are never reported. E. coli is characterized by bloody diarrhea and dehydration, and it can be particularly dangerous for children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems. 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 21-year-old man from King County Washington claims that he became ill shortly after eating ground beef distributed by Interstate Meats under the “Northwest Finest” label. His illness was so serious that he had to be admitted to the hospital, where he remained for three days. While his lawyer says he is doing better now, the victim is awaiting results of tests to determine if the E. coli infection has run its course. The lawsuit is seeking unspecified damages for medical bills and pain and suffering.
On August 31, Interstate Meats recalled ground beef sold under the “Northwest Finest” label after it was linked to an E. coli outbreak that sickened 9 people in several states. The company’s E. coli contaminated ground beef left five others ill in Washington, and infected two people in Oregon and one person in Idaho. Interstate Meats ultimately recalled 41,300 pounds of meat, including 16-ounce packages of “Northwest Finest 7% FAT, NATURAL GROUND BEEF” and “Northwest Finest 10% FAT ORGANIC GROUND BEEF” in those three states and Alaska.
E. coli contamination has been responsible for several recalls this year that have involved millions of pounds of meat. 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. Considering that in 2006, E. coli related recalls involved only 156,000 pounds of beef, this year’s numbers are extremely concerning.