The New York Daily News reported over the weekend on a lawsuit which alleges that the death of a 62-year-old Minnesota man was caused by the consumption of lean, finely textured beef (aka “LFTB,” and more commonly known as “pink slime”) tainted with E coli. The lawsuit was filed on January 8th by Marler Clark, one of the nation’s leading law firms for cases relating to food borne illnesses.
Throughout the “pink slime” controversy this past spring, Beef Products Inc., the company which manufactures LFTB, vigorously defended the safety of its product. According to the company, its ammonium hydroxide processing method is sufficient to kill potentially deadly bacteria in the raw material it receives from beef processors, raw material which is more likely than other parts of the cow to have come into contact with feces during the butchering process.
However, according to a Pulitzer Prize-winning 2009 New York Times exposé, federal testing between 2005-2009 found that ground beef containing LFTB was four times more likely to contain salmonella than regular ground meat. The facts of this case also took place during this time period, with the plaintiff’s consumption of the allegedly tainted beef taking place at the end of 2009, and his death occurring in early January, 2010.
The lawsuit alleges that tainted beef trim from JBS Swift & Company was sent to BPI for processing but the resulting LFTB still contained E coli when mixed by Tyson Foods, Inc. into ground beef consumed by the plaintiff. According to Marler Clark, this chain of distribution was determined through an investigation by the Minnesota Department of Health, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service; a chart prepared by Marler Clark illustrating the chain of distribution may be found here and is more fully described here.
The Minnesota Department of Health seems to feel there is a definitive link between BPI’s product and the plaintiff’s death, with a department representative quoted in the Daily News story as saying:
Is it likely that their product has ever made people sick, absolutely. . . Is it likely that BPI’s product was a source of this illness, absolutely.
It’s important to note that in more recent years BPI has reportedly improved its pathogen testing protocols, a development which I and others have lauded. However, based on my reading of the complaint and the Daily News story, it is unclear to me whether BPIs testing methods for the particular strain of E coli which allegedly killed the plaintiff in this case have changed since the new protocols were instituted.
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