Pritzker Law Firm Calls for Policy Change to Fight Worsening E. coli Problem

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Leading food safety lawyer Fred Pritzker calls on U.S. regulators to add non-0157:H7 forms of E. coli to its list of adulterants in ground beef. Currently, only E. coli 0157:H7 is designated as an adulterant in raw ground beef. Other strains of E. coli, such as E. coli 0111, are just as virulent and deserve equally stringent regulation.

Fourteen years after the United States designated E. coli O157:H7 as an adulterant in raw ground beef, one of the nation's leading food safety lawyers is calling on regulators to adopt the same zero-tolerance policy against other strains of the potentially deadly bacteria.

Fred Pritzker, a Minneapolis attorney whose firm specializes in major food-borne illness cases, said several other types of Shiga-toxin producing E. coli (STEC) must be declared adulterants by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help reverse dangerous upward trends in illnesses and recalls of tainted meat.

Last year alone, E. coli O157:H7 contamination prompted 21 recalls of ground beef totaling 29 million pounds - the highest level in five years. Ten of the recalls were associated with sickness. For a country that purports to have the safest food supply in the world, there's been no progress made since 2004 in wiping out E. coli infection, Pritzker said. In fact, lately the bug has been gaining ground.

"It makes no sense that we are regulating one deadly pathogen and ignoring others," said Pritzker, who noted that one person was killed this summer and more than 300 others were sickened by E. coli 0111 linked to the Country Cottage restaurant in Locust Grove, Okla. The restaurant reopened Saturday after being shut down for an extended period.

In October 2007, the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) co-hosted a public meeting at which non-O157:H7 STECs were a leading topic of concern. More than 100 non-O157:H7 strains exist around the world, but health officials in the U.S. are most concerned with O111, O26, O103, O45 and O145.

Six months after the public meeting, the FSIS said it was considering designating certain non-O157:H7 STECs as adulterants. Pritzker said the major policy change is needed right away. "We need to have the same stringent approach to all pathogens that are capable of causing serious harm or death," Pritzker said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it's possible that non-O157 STEC infections are as prevalent in the United States, or more so, than O157:H7 infections. Since 1990, the U.S. has recorded at least 23 outbreaks of infectious disease caused by the non-O157:H7 micro-organisms. And Like E. coli O157:H7, certain non-0157 STECs can lead to hemorrhagic colitis and hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a condition that has killed children, the elderly and persons with weak immune systems.

By designating as adulterants the most virulent non-O157:H7 STECs, Pritzker said, the FSIS will gain the power to effectively shut down plants when meat is contaminated. The scrutiny will force greater responsibility on the beef industry to detect the bacteria and to prevent it from entering the food supply.

When E. coli O157:H7 was legally labeled an adulterant in 1994, the industry improved its testing mechanisms. Likewise, screening would readily improve for non-O157:H7 strains. The zero-tolerance would also apply to beef imports and provide consumers with stronger protection in recall situations

Pritzker | Ruohonen & Associates, P.A. is one of the few law firms in the United States that practices extensively in the area of foodborne illness litigation. The firm has collected millions of dollars on behalf of victims of E. coli poisoning and other foodborne illnesses, http://foodpoisoning.pritzkerlaw.com. For more information, visit http://www.pritzkerlaw.com or contact Fred Pritzker at (612) 338-0202. Pritzker | Ruohonen has offices are located at Plaza VII, Suite 2950, 45 South Seventh Street, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55402.

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