Two and a half years after the death of a 62-year-old Minnesota man, three major beef processing corporations are being sued. Robert Danell's family says JBS Swift, Beef Products Incorporated, and Tyson Foods are responsible for Danell's death from E. coli poisoning.
Bill Marler, the lawyer representing Danell's family is looking into Danell's death and says he knows where the bacteria came from. Marler says this lawsuit isn't targeting BPI, but the entire chain of distribution.
In December 2009, 62-year-old Robert Danell attended a day program at a group home in St. Cloud, Minnesota. Twice, Danell ate ground beef from Tyson that contained BPI's lean finely textured beef.
Shortly after, Danell was diagnosed with E. coli poisoning at a hospital. In June of 2010, he died of kidney failure.
And he wasn't the only one to get sick, 25 people in 17 different states reported similar symptoms.
"Minnesota had a cluster of about four E. coli cases that were linked to hamburger. There were other cases in the U.S. that were also linked to hamburger and then there was another group of people who were linked to E. coli by steaks that were consumed primarily at Applebee's restaurants," says Bill Marler, the lawyer representing the Danell Family.
The Minnesota Department of Health began looking into the source of the E. coli outbreak.
"The hamburger for the Minnesota Cases with the ground beef was traced back to see if there could be a common link with the steaks that made people sick, in other states," says Kirk Smith, a Supervisor at the Minnesota Department of Health Food Borne Disease Unit.
Ultimately, the E. coli in the steaks traced back to JBS Swift, a meat processing and packing plant in Greenley, Colorado.
"JBS sent extra fat trim to BPI and BPI made LFTB and then sent that along to Tyson. And that was the only connection. It's always difficult in the middle of an outbreak to try and tie all that together. Minnesota health officials and Minnesota agriculture officials absolutely felt that was the connection, and the documents that I have gotten from them and viewed, clearly state that," says Marler.
Still Marler says, the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service didn't push Tyson or BPI to pull the ground beef from the shelves. A step that Marler says could help keep E. coli outbreaks from happening in the future.
"They have to feel that they have absolutely no question, they feel like they need 100 percent," he says. "And the reality is, you know, that means sometimes product that should have been pulled, doesn't get pulled."
But in a letter posted on www.meatingplace.com, BPI CEO Eldon Roth says the ground beef Danell ate was tested for E. coli and it came back negative.
Tyson Foods released a statement today saying
"We're committed to producing safe, healthy food and have programs, processes and technology in place covering all aspects of food safety. We do not believe our beef operations were the source of the illness that led to Mr. Danell's unfortunate death.
In fact, Minnesota state health officials reported they were not able to conclusively determine the ultimate source" (Gary Mickelson, Tyson Foods Public Relations)
We plan on reaching out to JBS as well and we'll bring you their responses when we hear back.
Coincidentally, Bill Marler's also defending the two former USDA employees in the defamation lawsuit filed by BPI a few months ago.