Michael Moss and members of the New York Times staff won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in Explanatory Reporting for telling Stephanie Smith’s story, it was announced Monday.

Smith is the Minnesota dance instructor who was horribly damaged from eating hamburger manufactured by Cargill Inc. in September 2007.

Moss won the Pulitzer “for relentless reporting on contaminated hamburger and other food safety issues that, in print and online, spotlighted defects in federal regulations and led to improved practices,” the seven-member selection committee said.

David Brauer, who blogs at www.MinnPost.com, explained just what the winner did in a bit more graphic terms:

“…Moss tracked an E. coli-laden patty back to the feces-filled slaughterhouse from whence it came.  Moss’ investigation revealed a shocking system where the feds don’t require E. coli testing, and slaughterhouses often sell to grinders who agree not to test shipments.”

Moss has been a reporter with the investigations group at the New York Times since 2000.   He is a westerner who worked his way east.  He is a native of Eureka, CA, who graduated from San Francisco State University.

Moss worked for the High Country News in Lander, WY and The Daily Sentinel in Grand Junction, CO before moving on to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, New York Newsday, and The Wall Street Journal, all ahead of his present job.

Previously, Moss was a Pulitzer finalist in 1999 as part of a Wall Street Journal team effort on the nursing home industry and again in 2006 for his work on protective armor problems confronting troops in Iraq.

His 2010 Pulitzer was awarded “for a distinguished example of explanatory reporting that illuminates a significant and complex subject, lucid writing and clear presentation, in print or online or both.”

In addition to the honor, the Pulitzer came with a $10,000 reward.

In telling the Stephanie Smith story, Moss in one tightly written paragraph disclosed:

“The frozen hamburgers that the Smiths ate, which were made by the food giant Cargill, were labeled ‘American Chef’s Selection Angus Beef Patties.’ Yet confidential grinding logs and other Cargill records show that the hamburgers were made from a mix of slaughterhouse trimmings and a mash-like product derived from scraps that were ground together at a plant in Wisconsin. The ingredients came from slaughterhouses in Nebraska, Texas and Uruguay, and from a South Dakota company that processes fatty trimmings and treats them with ammonia to kill bacteria.”

Smith, now 23, nearly died from the Cargill hamburger.   She was left paralyzed from the waist down with long-term internal damage that will require a kidney transplant in her future.

She has sued Cargill and the agricultural giant has admitted it is “strictly liable for Ms. Smith’s injuries,” but so far settlement attempts prior to trial have not been successful.

For her part, Smith has been in rehabilitation, learning how to manage the disabilities she will be living with for the rest of her life.   William Marler, managing partner of the nationally-known food safety law firm of Marler Clark, represents Smith in her case against Cargill.

There are a couple of footnotes to Michael Moss winning the Pulitzer Prize.  The selection committee opted to move the entry to “explanatory reporting” from “investigative reporting.”   And, a powerful picture of Stephanie Smith by Ben Garvin from the St. Paul Pioneer Press gave Moss’s writing an extra push.

Garvin, with permission from the Pioneer Press, does freelance photography for the New York Times and Washington Post.

No other 2010 Pulitzers involved food safety.