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 plant in Greeley, Colorado. The contaminated ground beef had been 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. 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 isolated from the recalled ConAgra beef.
On July 19, 2002, FSIS expanded the ConAgra ground beef recall to 18.6 million pounds of ground beef. In the weeks that followed the nationwide recall, more than 45 people in 23 states reported illnesses linked to the contaminated ground beef.
Reports indicated that ConAgra received 31 violations in the 13 months before its June and July 2002 ground beef recalls, and a September 13, 2002 letter issued by the following congressional members: Representatives Mary Kaptur, Rosa DeLauro, Henry Waxman and Senator Richard Durbin demanded to know why the USDA and ConAgra had failed to alert the public to possible contamination until more than two months after they knew there was contamination at the plant. Moreover, they intimated that ConAgra hindered the USDA investigation by refusing to turn over information about its Greeley slaughterhouses.
On November 15, 2002, the USDA shut down the ConAgra plant in Greeley (known as Swift and Co.), due to repeated failures to prevent fecal contamination of carcasses. The plant has since reopened.
Marler Clark represented 23 victims of the ConAgra E. coli outbreak, which led to at least 46 illnesses and one death. Among the victims were an Ohio childcare worker, a Colorado security officer who was battling forest fires, and young children in Colorado, Nebraska, and South Dakota. Several of them were hospitalized with hemolytic uremic syndrome, a frightening complication of E. coli O157:H7 infection that can lead to kidney failure and neurological impairment. Their claims were resolved in 2004.