Lawyer in Tainted-Meat Litigation Leads Inspection of Processing Plant: Death Linked to Plant Increased to 14 - Cheboygan Daily Tribune - March 5, 1999

Cheboygan Daily Tribune
March 5, 1999

Borculo, Mich. (AP) - The west Michigan meat processing facility linked to a deadly bacterial outbreak opened its doors for an outside inspection led by a lawyer for people allegedly sickened by the products.

Tuesdays tour of the Bil Mar Foods plant came as the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the number of deaths linked to contaminated hot dogs and deli meats made at the Ottawa County plant has increased to 14.

All the deaths, including one in Macomb County, occurred between early August and Jan. 17.

The CDC also said the meat, tainted by a rare but deadly strain of listeria bacteria, has been blamed for six miscarriages and 97 illnesses in 22 states during that same time frame.

Chicago attorney Kenneth Moll - accompanied by a food microbiologist, a retired U.S. Department of Agriculture official and a videographer - spent nearly 12 hours Tuesday examining the Bil Mar plant for clues to the outbreak.

Moll's firm has filed at least two lawsuits against Bil Mar's parent company, Sara Lee Corp. He told the Holland Sentinel in a report Wednesday that he was gathering information for a potential class action lawsuit involving people sickened by the outbreak - or the families of those killed by it.

"We're basically looking at all of our theories as to why there was contamination," Moll told the Detroit Free Press in a report published Wednesday. "The big issue here is cross-contamination."

Moll speculated that fans might have spread listeria bacteria to different rooms with a common ceiling, including a storage room for spoiled or other inedible food scraps.

Federal investigators have focused on a cooling unit, and theorized that dust and debris might have spread the bacteria.

Sara Lee spokesman Jeffrey Smith declined to comment on Moll's statement. "I know there's no shortage of theories," Smith said., adding that the companies own investigation is continuing.

On Dec. 22, Bil Mar began recalling 15 million pounds of hot dogs and cold cuts produced at the Borculo plant after listeria bacteria was found in both opened and unopened packages.

Bil Mar, which has been running some limited production since the recall, announced plans three weeks ago to shift work to other plants while it reconfigures areas that make retail franks, sliced lunch meats and bulk meats.

The company laid off 241 employees last month.