All Shiga toxin-producing E. coli–not just E. coli O157:H7–should be declared as adulterants under the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA), says a petition filed today with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS).

Not to do so, “ignores the grave dangers that scientific and medical research demonstrates…” and puts “the safety of American consumers at risk.”

So asserts the petition filed by Marler Clark, the Seattle-based law firm that represents victims of food borne illness throughout U.S., and several of the firm’s clients whose family members have been injured or killed by non-O157 E. coli serotypes.

Adulterants under the FMIA are impurities that are not tolerated.

It has been 15 years since FSIS went against the meat industry’s wishes and declared E. coli O157:H7 an adulterant under federal law.  The action was taken in October 1994 in the aftermath of the 1993 Jack in the Box outbreak, in which over 600 became ill with E. coli O157 and four children died.

“Despite strong scientific evidence that many strains of non-O157 STEC are as pathogenic as E. coli O157:H7, FSIS has thus far failed to include all STEC as adulterants under the FMIA, ” the petition says. “Recent studies have repeatedly shown that non-O157 STEC is a serious food safety hazard.”

Attorney William Marler says a debate has been going on inside the federal government for several years now about whether all Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, and not just O157, should be declared as adulterants. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta has required the reporting of non-O157 STEC infections since 2000.  CDC sees these strains as emerging pathogens that “poise a significant health threat.”

Marler says FSIS has been on the sidelines when it should be protecting public health.  The 470-page petition argues the agency has all the authority it needs to make the ruling.

The petition cites one study showing non-O157 STEC is prevalent in the America’s beef production at rates as high as 70 percent.  CDC estimates that non-O157 STEC causes an estimated 36,700 illnesses, 1,100 hospitalizations and 30 deaths annually.

Among those filing the petition are:

  • The Estate June Dunning–Mrs. Dunning was infected with E. coli O146:H21 from eating Dole Baby Spinach on Aug. 28, 2006.   She died early Sept. 13, 2006.
  • Megan Richards, Millville, Utah–Megan ordered and ate food purchased from the Ogden, Utah,  Wendy’s on June 30, 2006 and fell ill with an E. coli O121:H19 infection.  Megan developed Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS) and here kidneys were badly damaged.
  • Shiloh Johnson, Locust Grove, OK–Shiloh was one of over 300 people who became ill with E. coli O111 infections after dining at the County Cottage restaurant in Locust Grove, OK in 2008.  Shiloh developed Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS) and experienced a very difficult recovery.