Sara Lee and Bil Mar Cited for Contaminated Meats - The Chicago Crusader - January 9, 1999

By: Benjamin Tilman-EL
The Chicago Crusader
January 9, 1999

Since August of 1998, contaminated hot dogs and other meat products manufactured by Sara Lee and Bil Mar Foodservice, a division of Sara Lee Corporation, has resulted in at least four deaths and other confirmed cases of food poisoning, according to attorney Kenneth B. Moll. The contamination is linked to a food-borne disease - Listeriosis. Listeriosis is a serious and fatal infection caused by food contaminated with the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes. Attorney Moll indicated that several consumers from Chicago Heights, IL, have been infected and treated.

A nationwide lawsuit was filed December 30, 1998, by Kenneth B. Moll & Associated, Ltd., of Chicago, on behalf of affected consumers. The products in question have the establishment numbers P261 for poultry and 6911 for non-poultry.

Moll said, "A primary goal of the Sara Lee class action is to, inform the public that consumers of Sara Lee hot dogs and other meat products may have been contaminated with Listeriosis and to establish a medical monitoring fund so that every consumer may be informed of and tested for the adverse effects of Listeriosis."

Moll said, "Approximately 25% of persons infected with Listeriosis die each year." According to Stephen J. Ostroff, a doctor at the Centers for Disease Control' National Center of Infectious Diseases, " The severity of illness related to Listeria and the proportion of cases we find that actually end up with severe consequences and death is among the highest of all food-borne pathogens."

Where illnesses are the result of contaminated foods, the strain of bacteria is traceable because each bacteria has its own fingerprint. In September, 1998, Bil Mar Foodservice recalled 15,000 pounds of turkey franks after a worker discovered high levels in some of the packaged product.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said that "The turkey franks were distributed in 13 states and were being recalled because the meat may not have been fully cooked and could make people sick. Thomas Billy, administrator of the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, stated, "Because of the potential food-borne illness hazard , we urge consumers who have purchased the suspect product to return it to the place of purchase."

A representative of Bil Mar called the case "an isolated one" and said that it had taken steps to make sure its turkey franks are always cooked thoroughly. On December 22, 1998, before the CDC completed its investigation and testing of additional meat products manufactured by Sara Lee, the company voluntarily recalled specific production lots costing approximately $50- 70 million.

Moll, notwithstanding assurances of safety issued by Sara Lee, wants to continue to sound a note of urgency: "The CDC has indicated that we are going to see more reported cases from Sara Lee products for two main reasons: The bacteria involved has an average incubation period of three weeks, and as high as five weeks. Many people don't know about this because it was publicized around December 22, 1998, and it was actually given low media attention because of holiday focus, bombings in Iraq and the impeachment distraction. The subject was simply not ranked by the media as a prominent news feature."

Moll said, “The public must also be aware that the products had a sell-by date of January 27,1999. It is possible that some of these products are sitting in consumers' freezers. In view of such a probability, the consumer must be warned not to use these products." Moll also said that it is important to inform the public that Listeria targets particular groups: Pregnant women; newborns; persons with weakened immune systems and the elderly. The symptoms of infection are fever, muscle ache, nausea, diarrhea and gastrointestinal irritations. There are antibiotics that can treat infection if it is detected early. If it is allowed to spread to the nervous system it will become serious and can cause death."

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