Tracing back to the farm: E. coli O157 from 2007 still going

Jim Romahn writes that beef producers should watch an unfolding court battle dating back to a 2007 E. coli O157 outbreak in the U.S. because it’s becoming clear that they could be in for huge legal costs if suppliers can prove their cattle came to market carrying food-poisoning bacteria.

forensic DNAThis could be particularly true if the producers failed to use a vaccine that is available to reduce the shedding of harmful bacteria. A recent survey found that only two per cent of producers use the vaccine.

Romahn explains that Cargill Meat Solutions successfully sued Greater Omaha Packing Ltd. for $9 million over E. coli contamination of its ground beef, but now Greater Omaha is petitioning an appeal court to hear the case again.

Henry Davis, president and owner of Greater Omaha Packing Ltd., says his company tested every shipment of beef trimmings to Cargill and did not find any E. coli O157:H7.

Omaha was also not Cargill’s only supplier.

But when Cargill filed suit in 2011, it said it was able to identify Greater Omaha Packing Ltd. as the source of the E. coli contamination that led to a huge product recall. It sought about $25 million.

“Greater Omaha’s position is simply that you cannot mix its raw materials that tested negative for E. coli O157:H7 with other suppliers’ raw materials that have never been tested for E. coli O157:H7 or used a different testing protocol and then blame Greater Omaha when the end product is contaminated with E. coli O157:H7,” said Davis.

The case revolves around hamburger produced at Cargill over two days in August 2007. 

Greater Omaha argues while both days’ production had the same E. coli O157:H7 link, Cargill used Greater Omaha’s raw materials in only one of those days’ production while two other raw material suppliers were used both days. 

One of those suppliers was located overseas and never tested for E. coli O157:H7, according to Davis.