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Note to self: when ground beef test positive for E. coli, don’t sell it. Testing positive is a bad thing.

A recent FSIS public health alert for ground beef possibly contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 contained a shocking line:

“Greater Omaha Packing Co. Inc. determined that they inadvertently distributed product associated with a sample that was positive for E. coli O157:H7. “

In other words, a very large beef processing company tested a very small portion of their ground beef for the deadly pathogen for E. coli O157:H7. The test came back positive and … they shipped it anyway.

The way the system is supposed to work is that a single product positive should immediately put the entire product lot on hold and trigger additional broader testing to determine if the positive was an anomaly or a broader systemic breakdown.

When we are in litigation representing people who’ve contracted E. coli O157:H7, we look carefully at the testing results and identify patterns. Almost always there are warning signs that there is widespread contamination – a spike in positive environmental tests; positive product tests; sanitation breakdowns – that indicate an entire lot or production day has a higher than normal chance of contamination. Sometimes the production companies respond responsibly by holding the product, increasing testing, or even halting production altogether. What you do not see very often is shipping contaminated product anyway.

Give GOPAC credit for notifying the FSIS, but if someone gets sick, this is grossly negligent.

If there is one lesson food processors should have learned, it is that you should never, ever ship product you know is contaminated.  See the story of Stewart Parnell, the former owner and CEO of Peanut Corporation of America, who is doing hard time for deciding to “just ship” peanut butter before microbiologic test results were back.

In this case, it appears the ground beef known to be contaminated was sold at just a single store, in Sandwich, Illinois, and so far it doesn’t appear anyone has gotten sick. Hopefully no one will.

Notable Recoveries

$10 million

Seven infants were sickened after consuming a contaminated food product marketed to infants

$6.5 million

Verdict on behalf of a little boy who contracted a severe Salmonella infection from chicken

$7.55 million

Verdict on behalf of a little girl who contracted E. coli at a petting zoo

$2.25 million

E. coli infections contracted from a major fast food chain

$45 million

An over-the-counter medication caused severe kidney damage to multiple users

$3.4 million

A pregnant woman contracted a Listeria infection from contaminated fruit and passed the infection to her child

$3 million

Multistate Cyclospora outbreaks

$275,000

A couple contracted Salmonella from a restaurant

$525,000

A pedestrian was struck by a left-turning car, fracturing her tibia

$700,000

A semi-truck rear-ended a motorcyclist causing a collapsed lung, rib fractures and road rash