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N.M. teen sues Swift over E. coli

Ground beef is usually to blame in such cases, but the boy ate shish kebab.

By David Migoya

The Denver Post

July 7, 2009

The first of what might be several lawsuits by people sickened by E. coli-tainted beef was filed Monday in Denver federal court against the Greeley slaughterhouse that produced the meat and later recalled it.

The suit by 13-year-old Alex Roerick of Albuquerque alleges that he was sickened and hospitalized after eating meat that had been produced at the JBS Swift & Co. packing plant in late April.

The youth suffered flulike symptoms shortly after eating shish kebab at his grandmother's house May 10. Doctors later determined he had hemolytic uremic syndrome, a complication from ingesting E. coli 0157:H7, which derives from cattle feces.

Roerick's family ate the same meat, but he had more than the others, said his attorney, William Marler.

Of concern is that Roerick was sicked by whole muscle meat, not ground beef, as is typically the case with E. coli.

"It just shows how virulent the bacteria is," Marler said. "This is more than just a hamburger problem."

Swift refused to comment on the suit but said contamination might have come from the absence of an organic acid wash the meat is supposed to get before packaging, spokesman Chandler Keys said.

"We found that on April 21, pieces of meat mainly used for sirloin steaks were diverted from the spray because it was under repair," Keys said.

Keys agreed that U.S. Department of Agriculture testing is geared mainly to meat used for ground beef, not whole muscle products such as those recalled, though such cuts do undergo some interventions against bacteria.

"Up to now, everything has been linked to grinded meat," Keys said. "There has to be a system of intervention steps all the way to the consumer, who must ensure proper cooking temperature."

E. coli is killed when cooked to 160 degrees. Marler said that in Roerick's case, it's likely bacteria on the meat's surface were pushed inside by the skewers used to hold the shish kebabs.

Federal health officials say at least 12 people were hospitalized in connection with the recalled meat, two of them with kidney failure. At least 23 people in nine states were sickened by the same strain of E. coli matched to the recalled meat.

Swift recalled 380,000 pounds produced April 21 and 22 and shipped to distributors and retail outlets in 12 states.

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