In late July and early August of 2006, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) received notification that three people, all residents of or visitors to Longville, Minnesota, had tested positive for E. coli O157:H7. At the same time, MDH learned that many members of the Salem Lutheran Church in Longville had become ill with a gastrointestinal illness after eating meals served at the church on July 10 and 19.
MDH conducted epidemiologic and environmental health investigations into the confirmed illnesses and the church outbreak to determine whether they were related. MDH’s epidemiologic investigation revealed seventeen illnesses that met the case definition. Three people developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) and one person died. Attendance at the church’s July 19 dinner was significantly associated with illness.
The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) joined the investigation when MDH learned that all ill individuals had eaten ground beef in the days before becoming ill. MDA learned that the meat used in the church meal and that consumed by the other ill individuals had been purchased from Tabaka’s Supervalu.
MDA conducted a traceback of the ground beef purchased at the Supervalu and learned that the ground beef in question was distributed to Supervalu by Interstate Meat. Further traceback of the meat revealed that the “most possible” source of the meat delivered to the Supervalu store was the Nebraska Beef processing plant. In addition to this, the USDA reported that a sample of beef trimmings collected on June 14, 2006 at a processing plant cultured positive for a genetically indistinguishable strain of E. coli O157:H7 as the outbreak strain.
MDH concluded that ground beef from Tabaka’s Supervalu was the “source of the E. coli O157:H7 for this outbreak” and that:
The isolation of the rare outbreak PFGE subtype of E. coli O157:H7 from a sample of beef trimmings from a USDA-inspected plant in the weeks prior to the outbreak suggests that the chuck rolls that were used to produce the ground beef at the store were likely already contaminated when received in the store. … records that were available from the Tabaka’s Supervalu and [Interstate Meat] suggested that the ultimate source of the implicated chuck rolls was [Nebraska Beef].
Marler Clark represented three families in litigation against Interstate Meat, Nebraska Beef, and Tabaka’s Supervalu. The firm filed lawsuits on behalf of two women, one man, and the family of a woman who died in October of 2007. All cases were resolved in early 2009.