Bill Marler: E. coli O26 Outbreak and Recall Illustrate Urgent Need for Change

Food Safety Advocate has Petitioned USDA

The recent outbreak of E. coli O26 linked to three illnesses and the recall of four tons of ground beef products produced by Cargill Meat Solutions is the precise reason these pathogens need to be monitored, says Seattle food safety attorney Bill Marler.

“It took a massive outbreak in 1993 for the USDA and beef industry to accept E. coli O157:H7 as an ‘adulterant,’ which means that it is actively tested for in our food supply. Its presence in beef halts distribution and triggers a recall,” said Bill Marler. “The USDA and beef industry know well that there are at least six additional strains of shiga-toxin producing E. coli: O45, O111, O121, O145, O103 and O26 that are highly dangerous to humans and should not exist in food.”

Marler has been working since 2007 to get the additional E. coli strains added as adulterants, culminating in a $500,000 study to determine the prevalence of these toxins in the commercial beef supply. The study found these pathogens in nearly 1% of the tests. His firm, Marler Clark, in October 2009 filed a petition to the USDA requesting the change in USDA policy. It is estimated by the CDC that the six unregulated strains of E. coli sicken over 30,000 people a year and kill dozens.

“The food safety community has been extremely frustrated with the lack of action from the USDA and the beef industry,” continued Marler. “I’m sure the families of the people affected in this most recent outbreak will be as outraged as I am that these pathogens, which can severely sicken and even kill, are allowed into the food supply unregulated.”

Cargill has now recalled 8,500 pounds of ground beef products due to E. coli O26; three are sick in Maine and New York. In August 2008, an outbreak of E. coli O111 at an Oklahoma restaurant sickened 300 and killed one. A May 2010 outbreak of E. coli O145 in lettuce sickened 26.