Lawyer Tours Meat Packing Plant - Kalamazoo Gazette - March 3, 1999

By: Karla D. Shores
Kalamazoo Gazette
March 3, 1999

Borculo- A lawyer representing clients in lawsuits against a meat processor peppered his description of certain areas in the manufacturing plant with words like "unsanitary" after a long day tour there.

Chicago attorney Kenneth Moll, who represents clients in two lawsuits against Bil Mar and parent company Sara Lee Corp., stemming from a listeria outbreak linked to the processor, said the plant was otherwise clean.

But the hot dog manufacturing portion of the plant "stuck out like a sore thumb" in comparison, Moll said.

"Ninety-nine percent of the plant was spic and span. It was run very well. Then you have this little corner where they did hot dogs. Very substandard," Moll said.

Bil Mar faces at least five lawsuits resulting from the listeria outbreak. On Dec. 22, the company recalled 15 million pounds of hot dogs and cold cuts after a rare strain of the bacteria was found in opened and unopened packages.

The strain, pattern E, has been linked to 14 deaths and six miscarriages among 97 illnesses in 22 states from early August to Jan. 17, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Monday.

Listeria can be found in soil, water and raw food. The bacteria can cause death or severe illness in women who are pregnant, people who have weakened immune systems, newborns and the elderly.

The hot dog portion of the Bil Mar plant was shut down after the recall, but Moll said he and his team of hired inspectors were able to observe and record possible violations in the closed area.

Moll said the focus of his three-day visit to West Michigan is to determine whether employers knew about circumstances he believes led to the listeria contamination, and if so, how long they knew. Moll interviewed former employees of the plant during his visit.

Moll toured the 14-acre facility in Borculo, near Zeeland, with seven inspectors, a videographer, audiographer and photographer for nearly 12 hours before he left the facility and returned to his hotel room after 9 p.m. Tuesday. He planned to return to Chicago today.

The head inspector of the group, Jerry Cannon, owns an inspection company. Another inspector in the team, Bert Bartleson, of Olympia Washington, wotks for the Washington State Health Department.

The following are conditions Moll and his inspection team cited as violations:

  • Lack of proper ventilation;
  • Ceiling stains Moll believes are from condensation in the areas shut down after recall;
  • The allowance of worker traffic from other areas;
  • Lack of walls between raw and cooked meat processing areas.

Moll said he captured footage of the plant's operation and appearance on videotape and photos. He plans to use these in a deposition in the class-action suit.

Although he said the rest of the plant was exceptionally clean, Moll said he found a few violations, but nothing that would "reach the point of listeria contamination."