JBS Swift, Tyson Fresh Meat, Beef Products Inc. (BPI) and several other companies have been blamed for the 2010 death of a Minnesota man due to E. coli poisoning in a lawsuit filed against the defendants on Jan. 8.
Robert Danell, a 62-year-old man with Down Syndrome, died from medical complications days after falling ill during an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak linked to ground beef and needle-tenderized steak that sickened at least 25 people in 17 states during the winter of 2009. According to a report by the New York Daily News, that beef was traced back to a Greeley, Colo., slaughterhouse operated by JBS Swift & Company, also a defendant in the lawsuit.
According to the suit, JBS sold contaminated steak to National Steak and Poultry, as well as contaminated beef trim to BPI, which ultimately made its way into subsequent products, including Tyson ground beef eaten by Danell.
South Dakota-based BPI is the manufacturer of lean finely textured beef, a ground beef supplement made from lean beef trimmings treated with ammonia as a measure to kill potential pathogens. In the early months of 2012, BPI’s product – referred to as ‘Pink Slime’ by critics – faced a consumer backlash when Bettina Siegel, author of the blog The Lunch Tray, created a petition on Change.org asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture to remove the product from the national school lunch program.
Danell’s family is being represented by food safety law firm Marler Clark, which underwrites Food Safety News.
The family said Danell ate Tyson ground beef during day visits to a Catholic charity where he worked on Dec. 28 and 30, 2009.
Within days after eating the ground beef, Danell was experiencing so much bloody diarrhea and abdominal pain that he was taken to the hospital.
He died on January 19, 2010 after experiencing severe damage to his kidneys brought on by the infection.
Records from the Minnesota Departments of Health and Agriculture, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service indicate that beef trim from the JBS slaughterhouse was sold to BPI. The company then produced the lean finely textured beef that it sold to a number of food makers – including Tyson – to add to their ground beef.
In an open letter published on MeatingPlace.com, BPI Founder and CEO Eldon Roth issued a response to the lawsuit, saying it lacked merit and misconstrued facts.
“All our products sold to any ground beef processor would have tested negative for E.coli O157:H7,” Roth wrote. “It is our understanding that the ground beef obtained from one of the individuals involved in the Minnesota Department of Health investigation and which contained LFTB was tested for the presence of E.coli O157:H7 and tested negative. Further, based upon the type of ground beef consumed in this case, we know that no trim from the facility alleged to be the source of the E.coli O157:H7 outbreak would have been included in the LFTB we sold to Tyson Fresh Meats.”
Bill Marler, founding partner of Marler Clark, called the scientific evidence for JBS’s, BPI’s and Tyson’s connection to the death “overwhelming.” On Jan. 12 Marler posted an entry on his blog detailing the connection between the three companies.
“At this point, it’s between Tyson, BPI and JBS to point their fingers at each other,” Marler said.
Marler Clark has also been retained to defend two former USDA employees in a defamation lawsuit filed by BPI against a number of entities, which also include ABC News and a former BPI employee. BPI closed three of its four production plants earlier this year after its business took a hit following public backlash, which the company claims is in part due to misleading news coverage by ABC News.© Food Safety News