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BJ's Wholesale Club E. coli Litigation - New York and New Jersey (2002)

In May of 2002, Rockland County, New York, health officials began to investigate the source of a cluster of E. coli O157:H7 illnesses. During their investigation, it became apparent that two children originally thought to be part of the outbreak did not share a common exposure with members of the original cluster. Laboratory testing also showed that the children tested positive for a different strain of E. coli O157:H7 than that isolated from children in the original cluster. Further investigation into the two children’s illness revealed that they had both eaten ground beef products purchased from BJ’s Wholesale Club in West Nyack, New York, before becoming ill. One child developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a potentially deadly complication of E. coli O157:H7 infection.

Investigators from the New York Department of Health (NYDOH) joined Rockland County Health Department (RCHD) investigators in an epidemiological investigation into whether ground beef was, in fact, the source of the children’s illness. Leftover ground beef supplied by one child’s parents tested positive for E. coli O157:H7 at the NYDOH Wadsworth Center lab; however, since it had already been taken out of the package and handled, health investigators sought an unopened package of ground beef for testing.

In July, a BJ’s customer who heard about the RCHD investigation into the children’s illnesses supplied health officials with an unopened package of ground beef purchased from the West Nyack BJ’s Wholesale Club store for testing. The meat tested positive for the same strain of E. coli that had been isolated from the ground beef previously tested. Consequently, on July 16, 2002, over two months from the date the adulterated ground beef was originally purchased and consumed, BJ’s initiated a limited recall, mailing a letter to those people who had bought the ground beef at the West Nyack store between May 8 and 13, 2002.

Health officials later discovered that in addition to the two ill children in Rockland County, New York, a third child in Bergen County, New Jersey, had tested positive for E. coli O157:H7 after eating ground beef from a BJ’s Wholesale Club store, and suffered HUS. The strain of E. coli isolated from the Bergen County child’s stool sample was indistinguishable from the strain implicated in the Rockland County children’s illnesses.

Marler Clark represented the three children in litigation against BJ’s Wholesale Club and its meat suppliers. The cases were amicably resolved.

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