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ConAgra E. coli Outbreak

On June 30, 2002, the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (“FSIS”) announced the recall of 354,200 pounds of ground beef manufactured at the ConAgra Beef Company (“ConAgra”) plant in Greeley, Colorado. According to ConAgra’s Vice President Jim Herlihy, “one sample of the product tested positive [for E. coli O157:H7], so what ConAgra did was recall the entire day's production.” The contaminated ground beef was produced at the plant on May 31, thirty days prior to the recall, and was distributed nationally to retailers and institutions.

On July 12, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (“CDPHE”) disclosed that 17 Colorado residents had been infected with E. coli O157:H7. No source of the infections was identified at the time. Several other cases were subsequently reported in neighboring states. Three days later, on July 15, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) announced that the strain of E. coli O157:H7 that had infected the 17 sickened individuals was genetically indistinguishable from the strain of the recalled ConAgra beef.

After another review of plant practices and procedures on July 19, 2002, the FSIS expanded the ConAgra ground beef recall to 18.6 million pounds of ground beef. This was one of the largest meat recalls in U.S. history. The recall included all ground beef produced at the plant between April 12, 2002 and June 29, 2002. According to the FSIS, its investigation “indicated that product destined to become ground beef that was produced at the Greeley plant had a heightened possibility of containing E. coli O157:H7.” In the weeks that followed the nationwide recall, more than 45 people in 23 states reported illnesses linked to the contaminated ground beef.

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