MG+M obtained on June 1, 2018, an order granting summary judgment and dismissal of its client, a nationwide distributor of Asian food products in the 24th Judicial District Court for the Parish of Jefferson in the state of Louisiana. The plaintiff consumed sushi at a New Orleans area sushi restaurant and within days became violently ill, followed by 9 days of hospitalization caused by salmonella poisoning.  The Centers for Disease Control eventually traced the plaintiff’s poisoning to contaminated ground tuna that had been imported into the United States from India.  Some of the ground tuna that originated from India had been distributed by MG+M’s client to the New Orleans sushi restaurant chain.  Other defendants in the case included Little Tokyo Restaurant, and Moon Marine (settled manufacturer). Over 400 cases of the poisoning were reported nationwide, with many lawsuits brought in several jurisdictions.  The plaintiff’s alleged medical conditions resulting from the poisoning episode were: autoimmune thyroid disease, Cushing’s Syndrome, gastrointestinal problems, kidney tumors, lifetime vitamin B-12 deficiency, and Stargardt’s disease (early onset macular degeneration leading to blindness). MG+M persuaded the court, following ample discovery, that its client notified the New Orleans restaurant chain customer of the nationwide recall of the tuna product in a timely manner, and otherwise met its legal duty to the plaintiff and consuming public in this food-provider poisoning case.

MG+M’s Lake Charles Partner, David R. Frohn, was lead counsel, and he received excellent support from the firm’s New Orleans Associate, Helen M. Buckley.

 

Raw Hamburger

OnJuly 22, 2012, Cargill Meat Solutions Corporation (“Cargill”) announced a Class I voluntary recall of approximately 30,000 pounds of fresh ground beef due to contamination from Salmonella Enteritidis.   The recall follows a Salmonella outbreak involving 33 patients in seven states (MA, ME, NH, NY, RI, VA, VT).  An investigation performed by the Food Safety and Inspection Service (“FSIS”), the regulatory agency responsible for ensuring that our country’s commercial supply of meat is safe, has linked five cases of Salmonella infection to ground beef produced by Cargill on May 25, 2012.

Additional incidences of salmonellosis related to the meat subject to the recall should be few, as the onset of the five illnesses which were traced back to the subject ground beef were all well over a month ago, between June 6, 2012 and June 13, 2012.  Symptoms of salmonellosis, which include diarrhea, abdominal cramps and fever, generally manifest between 12 and 72 hours after consumption.  The use by date on all ground beef recalled by Cargill has passed.  Accordingly, none of the meat recalled is presently available for retail purchase.   Concerns remain, however, with respect to whether consumers may have stored potentially contaminated meat in their freezers for later consumption.

Cargill recalled 36 million pounds of ground turkey in August of 2011, after 107 people in 31 states were infected with salmonellosis.   In response to the last recall, Cargill temporarily halted ground turkey production at its Springdale, Arkansas facility in order to implement additional quality and testing standards.   Cargill has not yet determined the source of the bacteria contamination in relation to the present recall.  Accordingly, it is unclear what measures Cargill will implement to prevent future incidents of contamination.

Though it remains early in the recall process, Cargill has performed admirably in working to protect public health, while at the same time protect its brand and minimize the commercial impact of the current Salmonella Enteritidis contamination.

An effective recall requires preparedness, a rapid response, transparency, and a focus on the consumer.  Cargill has exhibited all of these qualities in this instance by:

  1. quickly identifying the potentially contaminated batch of ground beef;
  2. rapidly initiating a voluntary recall;
  3. working effectively with the FSIS to protect consumers against further infection; and
  4. issuing an apology to those who have become ill.

Now, Cargill must work to identify the source of the Salmonella Enteritidis contamination so it may implement measures aimed at the prevention of any future occurrences and attempt to restore consumer confidence.

Co-authored by Brian Gross

Cargill Meat Solutions Corporation (“Cargill”) recently announced the voluntary recall of approximately 36 million pounds of ground turkey believed to be contaminated with salmonella.  The recall represents approximately 6% of the national production of ground turkey in a given year.  Federal Health authorities have attempted for several months to determine the source of a multi-drug resistant Salmonella Heidelberg outbreak that has killed one person and sickened 111 others in 31 states.  Authorities had previously traced the outbreak to ground turkey, but only recently determined that the contamination occurred in ground turkey products produced at Cargill’s Springdale, Arkansas plant between February 20 and August 2, 2011.   Cargill has suspended all production at its Springdale plant and is working with Federal authorities to determine the source of the contamination.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) recently revealed that cultures of ground turkey taken between March 7 and June 27 from four different locations showed salmonella contamination, three of which were derived from the same source.  Additionally, a chart on the CDC’s website shows that multiple cases of illness have occurred each month since March, with the highest number of illnesses occurring in May and early June.   Despite determining that the illnesses of 77 individuals were related to the same strain of salmonella, Federal authorities were unable to prove a link to a specific source until now.

Salmonella is the most common bacterial form of food borne illness.  Symptoms typically include severe diarrhea, abdominal cramps and fever within 72 hours of consumption.  Salmonella is generally not life-threatening, though it can be to those with weakened immune systems.  It is safe to eat contaminated ground turkey provided it is cooked to an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees.  Consumers should be cognizant, however, of the potential risks of cross-contamination and be sure to wash their hands thoroughly as well as any surfaces which come into contact with meat.

As one can imagine, numerous lawsuits were recently filed by individuals allegedly sickened as a result of consuming the contaminated ground turkey processed by Cargill.  One such suit, brought by the law firm of Marler Clark on behalf of 2 Missouri residents, seeks punitive damages related to Cargill’s alleged failure to act despite knowledge that its product was contaminated.  An award of punitive damages, which is rare in food borne illness cases, would undoubtedly prompt increased litigation not only against Cargill, but also against any company whose contaminated products remain on the market for an extended period of time while government officials attempt to determine the source of the outbreak.  Such an award could also force manufacturers in future cases of potential contamination to take preemptive action and issue product recalls even before their product is definitively determined to be the source of the contamination.