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Wrongful Death suit Filed Because of Unclean Conditions at Bil Mar Foods - Detroit Legal News - February 4, 1999

Detroit Legal News
February 4, 1999

Zeeland (AP) A lawyer has raised allegations about unclean conditions at Bil Mar Food’s plant in this western Michigan community in a wrongful death lawsuit filed on behalf of a Tennessee woman.

Tainted meat from the Bil Mar plant has killed 12 people in 16 states and sickened 79 others, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Bil Mar, a division of Chicago-based Sara Lee Corp., on Dec. 22 recalled 15 million pounds of hot dogs and other packaged meat products sold under a variety of names. It said they could be tainted with listeria bacteria.

On Tuesday, Chicago lawyer Kenneth Moll filed the suit his second saying he interviewed former Bil Mar employees who talked about unsanitary conditions at the plant and faulty cooking processes.

This kind of conduct shouldn’t be acceptable,Moll told the Detroit Free Press for a story Wednesday.

Sara Lee spokeswoman Theresa Herlevsen declined to comment on the allegations about unclean conditions.

It would be difficult for me to comment on what he heard from some former employees, she said. Ms. Herlevsen said Sara Lee is aggressive about good sanitation practices.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday in Chicago accuses the company of negligence in the death of Helen Bodnar, a 74-year-old great-grandmother from Memphis who died Oct. 19 of meningitis brought on by a strain of listeria.

Moll’s other suit, a class-action effort, seeks to collect for anyone who claims to have eaten the tainted Sara Lee products.

Sara Lee declined to comment on the suit.

Moll also alleged that Sara Lee failed to head warning signs and reacted too slowly to problems with possible bacterial contamination in its products. He said some of those warnings signs include:

---On Sept. 17, the Bil Mar plant recalled 15,000 pounds of turkey hot dogs after some were found to be undercooked. Those products were recalled because they could have been tainted with bacteria.

---On Nov. 25, another Sara Lee company, Hygrade Food Products, recalled hot dogs made with chicken and pork at a plant in St. Joseph, Mo., because of concerns about possible contamination with listeria.

---On Dec. 15, federal investigators prompted the company to stop production and launch the massive recall Dec. 22. The plant remains idle.

Listeria are common bacteria but can pose a serious risk to people with weakened immune systems, as well as to the elderly, diabetics and pregnant women.

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