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.”