March 25, 2012

Here's what we know – and what we'll never know

Late last year, salmonella from tainted ground beef sickened at least 20 people – and maybe hundreds more. How did it happen?

By Leslie Bridgers lbridgers@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 4)

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The Hannaford supermarket at Mill Creek in South Portland stays busy late last year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Feb. 1 that the salmonella outbreak appeared to have ended, but the Northeast grocery chain still faces legal claims from people who became sick from tainted ground beef.

File Photo by John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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Danielle Wadsworth, 31, of Lewiston, was among 20 people known to have been sickened with a rare, antibiotic-resistant strain of salmonella linked to ground beef sold at Hannaford last year. Wadsworth, whose symptoms required three days of hospitalization, now is pursuing a claim against the supermarket chain.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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ANATOMY OF A RECALL: AT A GLANCE

The USDA has failed to require retailers to track what goes into hamburger meat -- even though better records would protect consumers from some food-borne illnesses.

Most retailers, including Hannaford, do not keep those detailed records and have chosen not to follow federal recommendations to do so.

Federal officials and food safety experts do not believe the salmonella contamination in last year's outbreak happened at Hannaford.

The USDA never found the source of contamination.n In total, 20 people from seven states were infected with a multidrug-resistant strain of Salmonella Typhimurium. Eight were hospitalized. There were no deaths reported.

Victims ranged from a year old to 79 years old.

Those who were taken ill came from the following states: Hawaii (1); Kentucky (1); Massachusetts (1); Maine (4); New Hampshire (6); New York (6); and Vermont (1).

Among those for whom information is available, illnesses began on or after Oct. 8, 2011.

Laboratory tests by state laboratories in Maine and New York isolated the outbreak strain of Salmonella Typhimurium from two separate samples of leftover ground beef purchased from Hannaford stores and collected from the homes of unrelated ill people in Maine and New York.

Of 19 victims able to provide information, 14 reported eating ground beef in the week before their illnesses began. Among those 14, 12 said it came from Hannaford stores between Oct. 12 and Dec. 10, 2011.

SOURCE: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; to see the agency's full report go to:

www.cdc.gov/salmonella/typhimurium-groundbeef/020112/index.html

Compared to the data breach, the number of customers affected by the contaminated meat was relatively small. But the inconvenience of a fraudulent credit card charge is hard to compare to a hospital stay.

"There's nothing more significant than customer safety," Norton said. And how much Hannaford has to compensate customers who got sick could reflect that.

DiGeorgio, who has sued Hannaford, didn't put a dollar amount on damages he's seeking. That's because he was still in physical therapy and out of work when he filed, said his attorney, Donald Boyajian, with Albany-based law firm Dreyer Boyajian.

Norton said Hannaford doesn't comment on pending litigation, and he wouldn't say whether the company has offered money to any victims in the outbreak.

Simon, the Texas attorney, said nearly all of his firm's salmonella cases have been settled out of court. Most companies don't want to go to trial because, if they lose, they have to admit to sickening people -- and he believes the chance of victory is slim.

Also, he said, companies don't want to be in a courtroom faced with the question of how their food got contaminated.

"'I don't know' is not a good answer," said Simon, "because the next question is, how do you prevent it from happening again?"

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

lbridgers@pressherald.com

 

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Tracking meat products

Do you think the federal government should require, rather than recommend, better tracking of meat products?

Yes

No

View Results