The family of a 62-year-old Minnesota man, Robert Danell, is suing a South Dakota beef company, BPI, on the grounds that he was poisoned by contaminated “pink slime,” the ammonia-treated “product” made from processed beef trimming that has come under fire in the U.S. over food safety concerns. According to the New York Daily News, Danell died of kidney failure in 2010 after eating ground beef.
Bill Danell describes his late brother Bob as “the life of our family gatherings… always kidding, and always giving a thumbs-up.” On January 8, the family filed a lawsuit with Marler Clark, a Seattle law firm that has represented victims of food poisoning, against BPI and seven other companies for the sale of the “unreasonably dangerous” food that led to in Danell’s death.
Tracing the Source of Contaminated Meat
Determining how Danell became ill has required detective work.
In 2009, 25 people in 17 states became ill in an E. coli outbreak that was traced back to a Greeley, Colorado slaughterhouse operated by JBS Swift & Company (one of the others companies in the lawsuit filed by Danell’s family). While Danell did not eat beef specifically from this source, he was later found to have contracted the same strain of E. coli.
Nine out of the 25 who contracted E. coli had eaten steak at Applebee’s restaurants. The CDC was able to figure out that the meat had come from distributor National Steak and Poultry (NSP) which had purchased the meat from JBS before it was sent to Applebee’s. On December 24, 2009, NSP voluntarily recalled 248,000 pounds of beef.
Health officials in Minnesota and elsewhere continued to report cases of the same strain E. coli, one of whom was Danell. He attended a day program at Opportunity Manor Group Home in St. Cloud, Minn., where, on December 28, he ate a hamburger and, on December 30, Swedish meatballs. Both were made with ground beef from Tyson that contained BPI’s “lean finely textured beef” (LFTB). By January 4, Danell had a “sharp stomachache” and bloody diarrhea and staff from his day program took him to St. Cloud Hospital. His condition worsened and he suffered kidney failure as well as massive damage to his internal organs.
Danell asked to get out of the hospital but died on June 19, 2010, after testing revealed that he had the same strain of E. coli that the CDC had found to have sickened the others in 2009.
Ground Beef/Pink Slime Meat Product Not Recalled, Despite Link to E.coli
Bill Marler, the attorney filing the lawsuit on behalf of the Danells, says that he is “99.99 percent sure that my client’s death is linked to LFTB that BPI sold to Tyson.” Tyson had combined the LFTB, the notorious pink slime with ground beef, and sold it — but the beef trim that BPI used was from JBS Swift & Company, the very source of the E.coli strain that had affected 25 others in 2009, according to records from the Minnesota Health Department, the CDC and the USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS).
Tyson’s pink slime/ground beef product was not recalled even though E. coli-tainted ground beef that had allegedly passed through BPI and Tyson plants had been pulled from stores.
Carlota Medus, senior epidemiologist for the Minnesota Department of Health, emphasized to the New York Daily News that it is difficult to know the exact source of the contaminated meat that killed Danell, as hamburger contains trim from a number of sources. Medus’s department was able to determine, via molecular testing, that those who contracted E. coli in the 2009 outbreak had eaten ground beef from JBS. But the FSIS never recalled BPI’s beef because ”it couldn’t be entirely certain it was linked to the outbreak.”
As attorney Marler says to the New York Daily News, “It is not about the money. It is about showing how this well-loved man died and the chain of production that was responsible.” Pain and suffering damages are not recoverable under Minnesota law but Danell’s family is pressing forward with its case and I can see why.
While anyone could have been stricken with E. coli, Danell’s disability may well have meant that it was harder for him to communicate his distress and pain until it was too late. His death is a reminder of the need to more stringent food inspection policies, to protect consumers and, even more, those who are especially vulnerable.
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