Stop & Shop E. coli Case - New Hampshire (2007)

On September 14, 2005 the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (NHDHHS) Public Health Laboratory (PHL) learned that an E. coli O157:H7 isolate had been cultured from a stool sample obtained at a New Hampshire hospital. NHDHHS PHL conducted additional testing and issued a laboratory report confirming the diagnosis on September 16.

Health department investigators spoke with the uncle of the patient, and learned that the child, who was hospitalized with hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), had eaten ground beef purchased from a Stop & Shop Grocery Store in Manchester, New Hampshire, at a barbeque over Labor Day weekend. NHDHHS obtained frozen leftover meat from the barbeque for microbiologic testing on September 21.

That same day a City of Manchester Department of Health Environmental Health specialist visited the Stop & Shop. His report notes:

The establishment keeps logs of their cleaning and sanitizing of the grinder. The grinder is used only for grinding beef. There are, however, two different methods for providing 75% lean ground beef. Most common is regrinding “chub” or already ground beef which comes on large tubes. The other method is to grind “trim” or pieces of cut beef (scraps of whole muscle material). There is no differentiation of “chub” versus “trim” on packaging. In addition, it was reported that because this was a holiday weekend it was more likely that trim ground beef was used, but there is no certainty.

During the inspection, two food safety critical violations were noted.

Preliminary results of the meat testing were reported to NHDHHS epidemiologists on September 22. E. coli O157:H7 was found in all seven samples of frozen ground beef that were submitted. City of Manchester Department of Health officials persuaded Stop & Shop management to issue a Public Health Advisory which was released at 9:00 pm on September 23. The advisory recommended that customers who purchased ground beef at the Stop & Shop on September 3 should not use the product and return it to the store for a full refund.

The NHDHHS Public Health Laboratory conducted pulsed field gel electrophoresis subtyping on isolates obtained from meat culture and culture of the ill child’s stool specimen and confirmed that the strain of E. coli isolated from 6 meat samples was a match to the E. coli strain isolated from the child’s stool when using the XBA restriction enzyme. Three of the 6 meat isolates matched when BLN restriction enzyme was used.

Stop & Shop did not keep records of what trim was ground and added to its tubed meat to produce the product used at the barbeque. As a consequence, the USDA could not conduct a thorough traceback to determine the initial or “upstream” source of the contaminated meat. No additional cases of E. coli O157:H7 were reported in the Manchester area and the investigation was closed in October 2005.

Marler Clark represented the family of the child who became ill with E. coli in a claim against Stop & Shop. The claim was resolved in 2007.