Transcript - Sara Lee Class Action - NBC 5 News - August 30, 2001

Sara Lee Litigation
NBC 5 News
August 30, 2001
5:00 P.M.

Reporter: A new government investigation says managers at a Midwestern meat plant knew it was shipping out contaminated food products. The 1998 lysteria outbreak was the largest meat recall in history and was linked to the deaths of 15 people.

Warner Saunders: Good afternoon I'm Warner Saunders in for Mark Suppelsa.

Marianne Brooks: I'm Marianne Brooks. Investigators for the US Department of Agriculture say employees at the Bil Mar plant in Michigan were aware that hotdog and deli meats were bad. At the same time the government found no evidence that Sara Lee intentionally distributed the products. How could that be? NBC 5's Matt Garcia has more on the report. NBC 5 News August 30, 2001 5:00 P.M.

Reporter: A new government investigation says managers at a Midwestern meat plant knew it was shipping out contaminated food products. The 1998 lysteria outbreak was the largest meat recall in history and was linked to the deaths of 15 people.

Warner Saunders: Good afternoon I'm Warner Saunders in for Mark Suppelsa.

Marianne Brooks: I'm Marianne Brooks. Investigators for the US Department of Agriculture say employees at the Bil Mar plant in Michigan were aware that hotdog and deli meats were bad. At the same time the government found no evidence that Sara Lee intentionally distributed the products. How could that be? NBC 5's Matt Garcia has more on the report.

Matt Garcia: Nearly 3 years after a recall of 35 tons of tainted meat, 15 deaths, and more than 100 sickened people later, new evidence emerges indicating the company, Sara Lee, may have known well before the outbreak. A report by the USDA OIC investigators concludes the management either knew or should have known that the hotdogs or other food products were contaminated with lysteria. The outbreak occurred in 1998. Many of the families affected have already settled. The company already slapped on the wrist with a misdemeanor and charged a small fine. Patricia Hardaway is outraged.

Patricia Hardaway: Sara Lee should not be fined or charged with a misdemeanor crime. I think, as far as I'm concerned, it's a felony.

Matt Garcia: The heart of the evidence comes from within, workers inside the Bil Mar plant that manufactured the meat. One employee who kept a six month diary of his work, telling investigators he knew with virtual certainty the products were contaminated with lysteria. A food inspection employee saying he became aware of increased levels of lysteria a year before the recall.

Ken Moll: One of the factors our clients settled for the amount they did was they thought, based on assertions from Sara Lee Attorneys, that there is no evidence that they have, that they indicated they knew about a lysteria infection in the hotdogs.

Matt Garcia: Ken Moll was the lead Attorney in the class-action lawsuit against Sara Lee that grew to 4000 people. He says one client has already given him permission to file a motion to reopen the case and go after punitive damages. Consumer groups like Safe Tables our Priority, a grass roots organization representing victims of food bourne illnesses, question the prosecution of the case.

Nancey Donley: It showed that the Attorney General was very negligent in his job. That office should have uncovered the same information that the OIG uncovered.

Matt Garcia: US Attorney for Western Michigan did not return our phone calls. In a recent published report he is quoted as saying 'he has not seen the report but stands by his decision'. Sara Lee issued this statement: 'The company has not had an opportunity to review the OIG report, regardless in June a government investigation uncovered no evidence that the Bil Mar plant knowingly produced meat food products that contained lysteria. It will be up to a judge to decide whether to reopen this case. Live in the newsroom, Matt Garcia, NBC 5 News.

Matt Garcia: Nearly 3 years after a recall of 35 tons of tainted meat, 15 deaths, and more than 100 sickened people later, new evidence emerges indicating the company, Sara Lee, may have known well before the outbreak. A report by the USDA OIC investigators concludes the management either knew or should have known that the hotdogs or other food products were contaminated with lysteria. The outbreak occurred in 1998. Many of the families affected have already settled. The company already slapped on the wrist with a misdemeanor and charged a small fine. Patricia Hardaway is outraged.

Patricia Hardaway: Sara Lee should not be fined or charged with a misdemeanor crime. I think, as far as I'm concerned, it's a felony.

Matt Garcia: The heart of the evidence comes from within, workers inside the Bil Mar plant that manufactured the meat. One employee who kept a six month diary of his work, telling investigators he knew with virtual certainty the products were contaminated with lysteria. A food inspection employee saying he became aware of increased levels of lysteria a year before the recall.

Ken Moll: One of the factors our clients settled for the amount they did was they thought, based on assertions from Sara Lee Attorneys, that there is no evidence that they have, that they indicated they knew about a lysteria infection in the hotdogs.

Matt Garcia: Ken Moll was the lead Attorney in the class-action lawsuit against Sara Lee that grew to 4000 people. He says one client has already given him permission to file a motion to reopen the case and go after punitive damages. Consumer groups like Safe Tables our Priority, a grass roots organization representing victims of food bourne illnesses, question the prosecution of the case.

Nancey Donley: It showed that the Attorney General was very negligent in his job. That office should have uncovered the same information that the OIG uncovered.

Matt Garcia: US Attorney for Western Michigan did not return our phone calls. In a recent published report he is quoted as saying 'he has not seen the report but stands by his decision'. Sara Lee issued this statement: 'The company has not had an opportunity to review the OIG report, regardless in June a government investigation uncovered no evidence that the Bil Mar plant knowingly produced meat food products that contained lysteria. It will be up to a judge to decide whether to reopen this case. Live in the newsroom, Matt Garcia, NBC 5 News.