Rochester Meat Company E. coli Outbreak Lawsuits - Wisconsin, California (2008)

In early January 2008, Public Health Madison and Dane County (PHMDC) received reports that area residents had become ill with laboratory-confirmed E. coli O157:H7 infections. PHMDC investigators notified the Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services (WDHFS), and the two agencies began a full epidemiologic investigation of the E. coli cases.

Pulsed field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) analysis was conducted on patient isolates at the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene (WSLH), and results showed that five Wisconsinites had been infected with a genetically indistinguishable strain of E. coli O157:H7. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was notified, and later notified Wisconsin health officials that a California resident had become infected with the same strain of E. coli.

Public health officials interviewed all ill individuals, and learned that all had eaten hamburgers purchased from Tony Roma’s restaurants in the days before becoming ill. Records indicated that Tony Roma’s had obtained its ground beef patties from Rochester Meats Company. The chain stopped serving the company’s hamburgers on January 10, 2008.

A sanitarian from PHMDC conducted an on-site inspection of the Tony Roma’s restaurant in Fitchburg, Wisconsin. She observed several food code violations, and learned through an employee interview that employees did not regularly use a thermometer to check for hamburger doneness. Instead, employees judged hamburger doneness by “texture and color.”

On January 12, 2008, The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that Rochester Meat Company was recalling approximately 188,000 pounds of ground beef due to contamination with E. coli O157:H7. It stated that the recall was necessary due to epidemiologic evidence linking Rochester Meat ground beef served at Tony Roma’s restaurants to E. coli illnesses in five Wisconsin residents and one California resident.

Marler Clark represented four individuals – three Wisconsin residents and one California resident – who became ill with E. coli infections after eating E. coli-contaminated hamburgers at Tony Roma’s restaurants in claims against Rochester Meat Company. The law firm resolved all cases.