Natural Foods Merchandiser

Lawsuit filed in Swift beef recall

A recall of beef linked to outbreaks of E. coli points to what could be a disturbing trend in the type of beef being contaminated, says the lawyer who filed a lawsuit against the processor that recalled the meat.

The Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service announced last week that the JBS Swift Beef Co. of Greeley, Colo., had expanded its June 24 recall of beef products that might be contaminated with E. coli. The recall was expanded to a total 421,000 pounds of beef as a result of investigation by the FSIS and the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention into 24 reported illnesses in California, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York and Wisconsin. The beef products were produced on April 21 and shipped to distributors and retail outlets in states across the country as well as internationally.

The problem was discovered through FSIS microbiological sampling and an investigation into distribution of other products, the FSIS said.

"The investigation prompted the company to re-examine the effectiveness of their food safety system for the April 21 production of beef primals, and they are conducting this recall out of an abundance of caution as the safety of the products produced on a portion of that day could not be assured," according to an FSIS statement.

JBS Swift did not return phone calls or an email seeking comment.

William Marler of the Seattle law firm Marler Clark and Kara Knowles of the Denver law firm Montgomery, Little, Soran & Murray filed a lawsuit July 6 in federal court in Denver against JBS Swift on behalf of a 13-year Albuquerque, N.M. boy the lawsuit says was infected with E. coli after eating beef shish kebabs.

Marler, whose firm has represented what it says are "thousands" of individuals in claims against food companies, said Alex Roerick became ill after eating the meat prepared by his grandmother on May 10. He was admitted to the hospital and diagnosed with hemolytic uremic syndrome, a complication of the E. coli infection. He was released several days later. The genetic fingerprint of the E. coli found in the boy's stool matched that of others who became ill in the outbreak tied to the JBS Swift beef recall.

Although the boy lives in Albuquerque, Marler said the lawsuit was filed in Denver because JBS Swift is in Colorado.

Marler said while the boy's case is "way too typical of E. coli cases," it's also unusual because it is tied to one of the few recalls and outbreaks that involve whole-muscle meat rather than ground hamburger.

The products subject to the recall included boneless beef bottom sirloin and butt ball tip.

"Most people think steaks are safe as opposed to hamburger, which they think might be risky," Marler said. "But more and more, lesser cuts of steaks and roasts are as dangerous as hamburger.

"It's an interesting trend," he said.

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