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Cargill Sued for E. coli Contaminated Meat

October 17, 2007
Lorraine Heller

Cargill was this week slapped with an E coli lawsuit related to contaminated frozen ground beef products sold by the firm's Meat Solutions Corporation.

The suit was filed on Monday in Dakota County District Court on behalf of a Minnesota family affected by the contaminated products, which have been identified as the source of an E coli outbreak in September and October.

According to the Gustafson family's attorney, both children in the family suffered from infections, and one had to be hospitalized for seven days after the infection led to hemolytic uremic syndrome.

This is not the first time that Cargill or one of its many subsidiaries has been implicated in an E. coli contamination. Sometime in 2000, Cargill was implicated as the seller of E coli-contaminated meat during the Milwaukee Sizzler E coli outbreak that killed one young girl and sickened an additional 60. In July 2001, Cargill recalled 200,000 pounds of ground beef after being linked to an illness in Georgia. In 2002, once again, Cargill sickened 57 in Wisconsin and Minnesota and recalled over 500,000 pounds of contaminated ground beef.

In the latest contamination incidence, the Gustafson children were two of three E coli cases that triggered an investigation by the Minnesota Department of Health and Minnesota Department of Agriculture, which eventually led to Cargill's recall of 845,000 pounds of frozen ground beef patties for E coli contamination on October 6, 2007.

The investigation began in Minnesota, E coli illnesses linked to Cargill ground beef products have been identified in Minnesota (5), Wisconsin (5), North Carolina (2) and Tennessee (3).

Just last week, food giant ConAgra was also slapped with a lawsuit related to the contamination of its pot pie products with salmonella. The case has led to the firm ceasing operations at it production plant, as well as a nationwide recall.

Cases such as these highlight the need for more stringent safety measures, both for the protection of consumer health and company reputation.

In the US an estimated 76 million cases of foodborne illness occur each year, causing about 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics for 2005. Since 1990, over 400 produce-related outbreaks have occurred across North America.

According to 2006 statistics reported to the CDC by the Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network (also known as FoodNet), some pathogen-related illnesses are on the increase.

FoodNet collects data from 10 US states regarding diseases caused by enteric pathogens transmitted commonly through food.

The CDC identified 17,252 laboratory-confirmed cases of food poisoning in 2006, including 6,655 cases of salmonella and 590 cases of E coli O157. In 2005, 16,614 cases were identified, rising from 15,806 in 2004.