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Marler to Cargill: Test for Salmonella, Avoid Suit

The Seattle food safety law firm Marler Clark made an unusual offer Friday to Cargill Inc., the company whose ground turkey has been linked to 77 illnesses and one death in a multi-state outbreak of Salmonella Heidelberg.

The proposal: If Cargill will immediately start testing its meat for antbiotic-resistant  Salmonella strains — such as Salmonella Heidelberg, Salmonella Newport, Salmonella Hadar and Salmonella Typhimurium — Marler Clark will delay suing the food giant on behalf of the more than 2 dozen victims who are now its clients.

“We still intend to ensure that our clients’ medical bills, wage loss and damages are fully covered,” said Marler Clark attorney Bill Marler, in a news release. “However, we’ve been at this long enough to where we’d like to see our efforts give peace of mind to both our clients and American consumers as a whole.” 

  

The firm agreed to delay filing lawsuits against Cargill and instead “commit to working out private,  amicable solutions” if the corporation, which has so far recalled 36 million pounds of turkey processed at its facility in Springdale, Arkansas, takes action toward a Salmonella testing program by Wednesday.   

“I view it from Cargill’s perspective and my perspective as a win-win situation,” said Marler, who also is publisher of Food Safety News

 

“I’m hopeful that they’ll respond positively before Wednesday and that they’ll see that testing for antibiotic-resistant bacteria will not only save customers from becoming ill but will also save them hundreds of billions of dollars in recall costs,” he added. 

The outbreak linked to ground turkey marks the fourth traced to antibiotic-resistant strains of Salmonella detected in the corporation’s meat since 2002. It is the largest Class I recall on record.

Cargill says it is currently examining its production procedures.

“We are still determining what measures need to be taken at our Springdale, Arkansas turkey processing facility,” said Michael Martin of Cargill in an e-mailed statement to Food Safety News.

Marler is familiar with the company, having reached a settlement on behalf of multiple victims of a 2007 E. coli outbreak traced to its ground beef patties.  

While he waits to hear whether Cargill will take him up on his proposal, he is hopeful that other food companies will take the initiative to implement Salmonella testing.

“Even if Cargill chooses not to test, my strong suspicion is that other companies, like ITP, Costco, Earthbound Farms, are going to start testing,” he says. “They weren’t required to test for non-O157 (E. coli) and they stepped up and did it.”

© Food Safety News
  • Carole

    Excellent. Hope Cargill steps up. Maybe we need to start publishing a list of companies who are doing voluntary testing so consumers can decide which companies they want to support with their food dollars.

  • Ravi Ramadhar

    Excellent way to modify behavior and change practices of companies. They have a meaningful incentive. Technology and services are available for the testing, but most companies are still looking to testing as an expense. Companies have a choice, they can pay and do the right things or pay for the costs their products produces.
    Why not work with the insurance companies; if a company is using the latest technology or implementing testing, how about reducing their recall insurance rates? This is a meaningful way of lowering risks?

  • jmunsell

    The industry has been saying for several years now that “We can’t test our way to food safety”. True. And false! We need to dissect the efficacy of testing, and further define what we expect to do with test results.
    When microbial test results of meat plant products reveal a “Potential Positive” or “Presumptive Positive”, plants regularly divert the impacted product to a plant which fully cooks the meat. Full cooking is a kill step, which effectively kills the bacteria, making the product safe to consume. Such diversion to plants which fully cook indeed protects consumers, a laudable procedure. In the short run, such diversion does indeed protect public health.
    How about the long run? Now, that’s a totally different story. USDA inspectors and veterinarians frequently tell me that in such cases, after the potentially contaminated meat is diverted, the slaughter plant which produced the raw meat scratches its head and wonders what caused the contamination in the first place. Typically, no cause is found, and the slaughter plant continues operations as is, with no corrective actions to prevent recurrences. As such, we are virtually guaranteed ongoing outbreaks and recurring recalls. Sound familiar?
    In stark contrast, Cargill has discontinued production of ground turkey at its Springdale, AK, plant, until it finds the SOURCE of Salmonella contamination at this plant, and taken corrective actions to prevent recurrences. I can’t praise Cargill enough, because they indeed want to find the SOURCE, and to permanently rectify the problem. However, Cargill’s grinding process is not INTRODUCING the Salmonella, but merely distributing previously-existing bacteria throughout the batch of meat being ground. Somewhere in Cargill’s slaughter process, Salmonella is being transferred onto poultry carcasses. Later, when the carcasses are fabricated into cuts and trimmings, the salmonella continue down the conveyor belts where their presence is detected via ground product testing.
    It reminds me of a dough manufacturer, who was beseiged with demands for credit from countless retailers who experienced ongoing problems with dough laced with spoilage bacteria, causing dough containers to explode, spreading foul dough everywhere, and alienating consumers. The dough manufacturer finally discovered that a piece of equipment had an impossible-to-clean & sanitize area on the production line which could not be fully cleaned during washup time. As a result, spoilage bacteria permanently lodged in the equipment, contaminating all subsequent production. Once the hidden source of bacteria was discovered, the company remodeled this piece of equipment to allow complete sanitation success, and the spoiled dough dilemna stopped dead in its tracks.
    Cargill is doing the same investigation now, as did Maple Leaf at its Canadian slicing plant a couple years ago to determine which piece(s) of equipment were harboring invisible listeria, unwittingly insulated from necessary cleaning/sanitation protocol. This is the way responsible food plants should respond to adverse lab test results. Saddly, this is NOT being done when adverse lab results reveal the presence of E.coli O157:H7 in boneless trimmings or other products.
    If a meat plant would temporarily discontinue slaughter operations in such events, and copiously scrutinize every step of hide removal and evisceration until the origin of the insanitary culprit was discovered, and take corrective actions to prevent recurrences, the number of outbreaks would greatly diminish. Instead of shutting down operations, a more palatable and effective protocol would be to immediately initiate a large increase of microbial tests at EVERY step in the hide removal/evisceration process, to determine the very step(s) where pathogens are being unwittingly deposited onto carcasses. This is called process control, and part and parcel of Pillsbury’s original HACCP Plan. The efficacy of testing is intentionally short circuited when testing only reveals the presence of pathogens, while ignoring the SOURCE of the pathogens. Testing should be done in a way which reveals the very step(s) where sanitary production protocol is failing.
    Therefore, testing finished products indeeds reveals the presence of pathogens and has value, but provides no evidence of what part of the production line suffers from ongoing insanitary procedures.
    Bottom line: testing certainly has value. However, unless sampling & testing methodology enables traceback to and reveal the cause/origin/reason for the contamination, public health continues to suffer. Diversion to full cooking is a temporary palliative, helpful only in the short run. The underlying problem here is that meat plants don’t always implement corrective actions to prevent recurrences when confronted with adverse lab results.
    Now you can fully understand the industry’s mantra that “We can’t test our way to safe food”. The truth is that if we combine corrective actions with test results, only then can we indeed promise SAFER food.
    John Munsell

  • Wouldn’t it be wonderful if someday a high powered attorney, such as Marler Clark, could use his power and influence to convince pet food and animal feed manufacturers to make similar food safety changes?
    But, until the laws that place the value of companion animals and farm animals higher than the price that was paid for them, that day will never materialize.
    It is shortsighted to place the strength of a nation’s food system based largely on the quality and safety of products manufactured and sold for human consumption.

  • Minkpuppy

    Due to the integretion in the poultry industry, Cargill has the unique advantage over the beef industry of being able to go to the contracted growers that raise turkeys for Cargill and address the problem at the flocks and houses.
    The birds are the TRUE source of the Salmonella. If there hadn’t been infected turkeys coming into the slaughter side, salmonella would not have gotten onto the carcass and then subsequently into the ground meat.
    Cargill and it’s turkey growers have the chance now to empty the turkey houses, clean them up properly and then reintroduce uninfected birds into the clean houses. Will they do it? That remains to be seen.

  • John Munsell

    The industry has been saying for several years now that “We can’t test our way to food safety”. True. And false! We need to dissect the efficacy of testing, and further define what we expect to do with test results.
    When microbial test results of meat plant products reveal a “Potential Positive” or “Presumptive Positive”, plants regularly divert the impacted product to a plant which fully cooks the meat. Full cooking is a kill step, which effectively kills the bacteria, making the product safe to consume. Such diversion to plants which fully cook indeed protects consumers, a laudable procedure. In the short run, such diversion does indeed protect public health.
    How about the long run? Now, that’s a totally different story. USDA inspectors and veterinarians frequently tell me that in such cases, after the potentially contaminated meat is diverted, the slaughter plant which produced the raw meat scratches its head and wonders what caused the contamination in the first place. Typically, no cause is found, and the slaughter plant continues operations as is, with no corrective actions to prevent recurrences. As such, we are virtually guaranteed ongoing outbreaks and recurring recalls. Sound familiar?
    In stark contrast, Cargill has discontinued production of ground turkey at its Springdale, AK, plant, until it finds the SOURCE of Salmonella contamination at this plant, and taken corrective actions to prevent recurrences. I can’t praise Cargill enough, because they indeed want to find the SOURCE, and to permanently rectify the problem. However, Cargill’s grinding process is not INTRODUCING the Salmonella, but merely distributing previously-existing bacteria throughout the batch of meat being ground. Somewhere in Cargill’s slaughter process, Salmonella is being transferred onto poultry carcasses. Later, when the carcasses are fabricated into cuts and trimmings, the salmonella continue down the conveyor belts where their presence is detected via ground product testing.
    It reminds me of a dough manufacturer, who was beseiged with demands for credit from countless retailers who experienced ongoing problems with dough laced with spoilage bacteria, causing dough containers to explode, spreading foul dough everywhere, and alienating consumers. The dough manufacturer finally discovered that a piece of equipment had an impossible-to-clean & sanitize area on the production line which could not be fully cleaned during washup time. As a result, spoilage bacteria permanently lodged in the equipment, contaminating all subsequent production. Once the hidden source of bacteria was discovered, the company remodeled this piece of equipment to allow complete sanitation success, and the spoiled dough dilemna stopped dead in its tracks.
    Cargill is doing the same investigation now, as did Maple Leaf at its Canadian slicing plant a couple years ago to determine which piece(s) of equipment were harboring invisible listeria, unwittingly insulated from necessary cleaning/sanitation protocol. This is the way responsible food plants should respond to adverse lab test results. Saddly, this is NOT being done when adverse lab results reveal the presence of E.coli O157:H7 in boneless trimmings or other products.
    If a meat plant would temporarily discontinue slaughter operations in such events, and copiously scrutinize every step of hide removal and evisceration until the origin of the insanitary culprit was discovered, and take corrective actions to prevent recurrences, the number of outbreaks would greatly diminish. Instead of shutting down operations, a more palatable and effective protocol would be to immediately initiate a large increase of microbial tests at EVERY step in the hide removal/evisceration process, to determine the very step(s) where pathogens are being unwittingly deposited onto carcasses. This is called process control, and part and parcel of Pillsbury’s original HACCP Plan. The efficacy of testing is intentionally short circuited when testing only reveals the presence of pathogens, while ignoring the SOURCE of the pathogens. Testing should be done in a way which reveals the very step(s) where sanitary production protocol is failing.
    Therefore, testing finished products indeeds reveals the presence of pathogens and has value, but provides no evidence of what part of the production line suffers from ongoing insanitary procedures.
    Bottom line: testing certainly has value. However, unless sampling & testing methodology enables traceback to and reveal the cause/origin/reason for the contamination, public health continues to suffer. Diversion to full cooking is a temporary palliative, helpful only in the short run. The underlying problem here is that meat plants don’t always implement corrective actions to prevent recurrences when confronted with adverse lab results.
    Now you can fully understand the industry’s mantra that “We can’t test our way to safe food”. The truth is that if we combine corrective actions with test results, only then can we indeed promise SAFER food.
    John Munsell

  • Wouldn’t it be wonderful if someday a high powered attorney, such as Marler Clark, could use his power and influence to convince pet food and animal feed manufacturers to make similar food safety changes?
    But, until the laws that place the value of companion animals and farm animals higher than the price that was paid for them, that day will never materialize.
    It is shortsighted to place the strength of a nation’s food system based largely on the quality and safety of products manufactured and sold for human consumption.

  • John, if it were only as simple as you describe. You and I have discussed the kill step that is needed in beef and poultry and that is still the best answer to getting meat products safer.
    In my food management past, we researched where many pathogens might originate. Frankly, we found pathogens everywhere: Dirt, air, water, people, clothes, drains, forklift trucks, trailers – the environment was contaminating the food. We changed all sorts of processes to make food products safer and it was fruitless.
    The kill step is the only answer.

  • c pearce

    The SOURCE of contamination is infected birds. Infected birds should be destroyed. It is really quite difficult to believe that the growers and food giant Cargill don’t know when they are dealing with an infected flock.