December 15, 2012

Still no fix a year after salmonella outbreak

Hannaford, which sold the tainted beef, has implemented recommended changes, but regulators are dragging their feet.

By Leslie Bridgers lbridgers@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 2)

click image to enlarge

Kenneth Koehler, one of the 20 people sickened by a salmonella outbreak involving Hannaford ground beef, continues to seek a settlement that’s “well under six figures.”

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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OUTBREAK TIMELINE

OCT. 8, 2011 – First symptoms of illness appear in a victim later identified by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as one of 20 people known to have been sickened in an outbreak of  Salmonella typhimurium. When multiple people tested positive for the rare strain of salmonella, the CDC began to interview patients about the food they’d eaten in the week before their illness began and found many of them had had ground beef from Hannaford stores.

Week before Dec. 15 – Investigators from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service visit Hannaford’s distribution centers and a handful of stores, requesting grinding logs and inventory records. Hannaford was not informed of the nature of the investigation, according to a spokesman.

Dec. 15 – USDA officials inform Hannaford’s food safety director, Larry Kohl, that investigators have determined an association between a salmonella outbreak and Hannaford ground beef.

Noon – Kohl calls company executives to a meeting at the corporate offices in Scarborough to pass along initial information.

5 p.m. – Hannaford executives gather in a conference room for a conference call with officials from the USDA and the CDC. Federal and company officials decide to recall all ground beef with a sell-by date of Dec. 17 or earlier.

7:45 p.m. - Hannaford’s corporate office sends an urgent message to store managers to remove 10 varieties of Hannaford, Nature’s Place and Taste of Inspirations ground beef from their shelves within an hour. They remove 17,000 pounds of ground beef.

11 p.m. - Hannaford sends out a press release announcing the recall. The release reports that 10 people sickened with salmonella said they purchased ground beef from Hannaford between Oct. 12 and Nov. 20.

Dec. 16 – USDA issues a press release classifying the recall as having a “high” health risk and pointing to Hannaford’s “limited records” as an impediment to the investigation into the source of the contamination. It reports that the CDC knows of 14 people infected with the salmonella strain. Eleven of them ate ground beef, and 10 of them purchased that beef at Hannaford stores in Maine, New York, New Hampshire and Vermont.

  Customers begin bringing recalled meat back to stores for refunds. Hannaford says it has paid about $400,000 in refunds for more than 100,000 pounds of beef.
Dec. 20 – CDC increases the number of victims to 16 people from seven states, seven of whom were hospitalized. Eleven ate ground beef and 10 purchased it from Hannaford — the same as initially reported.

Dec. 21 – Brian DiGeorgio of Watervliet, N.Y., who was hospitalized for two weeks because of salmonella linked to Hannaford ground beef, files a personal injury lawsuit against the grocery chain.
Jan. 5, 2012 – CDC increases the number of victims to 19 people from seven states. Fourteen reported eating ground beef, and 12 reported buying it at Hannaford between Oct. 12 and Dec. 10.

Jan. 6 – U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree sends a letter to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack telling him “the public has a right to know” more about the USDA’s investigation.

Jan. 27 – In a conference call with reporters, USDA officials say they don’t believe they’ll be able to identify the source of the contamination due to Hannaford’s “high-risk practices,” including grinding beef from different suppliers without cleaning equipment in between. They say they plan to close the investigation within a week.

Feb. 1 – The CDC issues a “final update” on its investigation, saying the salmonella outbreak appears to be over and 20 people from seven states were known to have been sickened. Eight of them were hospitalized.

Feb. 2 – USDA closes its investigation.

STILL DEALING WITH THE FALLOUT

The December 2011 Hannaford case was not an isolated incident.

Since 2007, the USDA has not been able to identify the source of contamination in 35 percent of its ground-beef investigations and 37 percent of all investigations, it has said. The roadblock is usually a lack of product information, a lack of epidemiological information or complications due to cross-contamination, McIntire said.

If the USDA had been able to identify a supplier in the Hannaford case, the supermarket chain probably wouldn't have gotten stuck with the cost of compensating those sickened in the salmonella outbreak, say attorneys associated with the case.

Norton wouldn't say whether the company has paid out any settlements. Ron Simon, a food poisoning attorney from Texas who represented three members of the Dugan family of Manchester, N.H., who had been sickened by the salmonella outbreak, said their case has been resolved, but he wouldn't give any details.

Benjamin Hill, an attorney from Dreyer Boyajian in Albany, N.Y., is representing several other people sickened in the outbreak, including Brian DiGeorgio, who was hospitalized for two weeks and filed a lawsuit against Hannaford.

Hill said last week that the suit is ongoing, as are negotiations for compensation for his other clients, whom he wouldn't name. He wouldn't say how much money any of them are seeking.

Koehler of Old Orchard Beach also declined to specify what he's asking of Hannaford, other than to say he wants to cover his medical bills and get compensated for his pain and suffering -- and that it's "well under six figures."

Since he spent three days curled up on his bathroom floor and a half-day in the emergency room at Southern Maine Medical Center in November 2011, Koehler has had persistent bowel issues, including bleeding and hemorrhoids, that only started to abate three months ago, he said.

His medical bills have included visits to his primary care physician and a gastroenterologist, colonoscopies, endoscopies and blood work.

Koehler said the illness was life-changing. He still shops at Hannaford, but he won't even walk by the meat case.

"And you're talking to a guy who loved ground beef," he said.

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at: 791-6364 or at

lbridgers@pressherald.com

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