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Attorney Says Listeria Report Supports His Case - Holland Sentinel - June 4, 1999

By: John Spykerman and Kristen Aplleyard
Holland Sentinel
June 4, 1999

A Chicago lawyer says a report just issued this week tracing listeria contamination in a Bil Mar Foods production area at least as far back as April 1998 should help his lawsuit against Bil Mar's parent company.

"This supports our case 100 percent," said attorney Kenneth Moll, who has filed a class action lawsuit against Sara Lee Corp., which owns the Bil Mar production plant in Borculo. "It went way beyond what we had hoped for."

The report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention not only links the listeria outbreak to the Bil Mar plant, but also supports the theory that plant operators knew there was a bacteria problem several months before they initiated a recall of tainted hot dogs , said Moll.

"There was seven months of increased positive (listeria) readings, and they didn't do anything. They didn't warn the public, nothing" he said.

Moll plans to amend next week the class action lawsuit he has filed in Chicago to request that Bil Mar and Sara Lee be barred from producing any more hot dogs until they prove they have changed their manufacturing technology.

"We want to make sure this doesn't happen again," he said.

Moll said his law firm is investigating nearly 40 deaths and close to 300 illnesses they suspect to be linked to the listeria outbreak. The CDC has confirmed only 15 adult deaths, six miscarriages or stillbirths, and 101 illnesses in 22 states as a result of the listeria outbreak.

CDC investigators believe the removal of a large refrigeration unit from the ceiling of the plant's hot dog production area last July spread the listeria.

A spokesman for Sara Lee said Wednesday that the CDC report does not necessarily single out the Burculo plant as the cause of the outbreak.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the target of some criticism over its investigating the listeria crisis, said for now it will take the report issued by the CDC simply as part of the public comment phase it began earlier this year, and not as an official communication.

"As of now, the CDC report is not an official report, it's really at this point more of an internal document," said USDA spokesman Chris Church. "We are taking it in, considering it as part of the public comment phase...it's more of an individual's comment at this point."

In the aftermath fo the listeria outbreak, the CDC is recommending meat producers and the USDA make several changes in the process used to regulate meat production.

The close scrutiny placed on packaged meats nearly devastated the industry after massive recalls began last December. Since then, area supermarket chains say the market is beginning to build itself back up.

"The other brands were slower in the beginning, but ti is now picking up since spring has come," said Meijer spokesman John Zimmerman. "I believe once the confidence level is back up, there are a lot of great companies that have had no problems with listeria at all. We hope people recognize that, and the other vendors are able to see sales increase in time."

D&W spokesman Ron Cox agreed, adding that summer traditions of grilling and picnicking should help the industry.

"It depends a lot on the time of year," he said. "I'd expect summertime would help boost the sales and help people be a little more confident in buying these types of products."

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