Marler Clark, the nation’s leading law firm representing victims of foodborne illness outbreaks, petitioned the United States Department of Agriculture(USDA) to declare all illness-causing strains of E. coli bacteria adulterants in food. The firm, which is representing victims of the recent Germany-based E. coli O104 outbreak, today commended Beef Products, Inc. (BPI) for taking a large step in that direction after the company announced that it will begin testing its products for six strains of E. coli not currently regulated by the USDA, and called again on the federal government to do more to protect consumers from all pathogenic strains of E. coli.
The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) currently only requires testing for the most notorious E. coli strain: O157:H7. BPI will soon test for what are known as “The Big Six” E. coli strains, which produce highly dangerous Shiga toxins and account for 70 percent of non-O157:H7 infections. These include O26, O45, O103, O111, O121 and O145.
The recent E. coli outbreak in Germany that resulted in over 4,000 illnesses and 50 deaths was caused (including five ill in the U.S. and one death) by a strain not listed in The Big Six. The strain responsible for the outbreak, E. coli O104:H4, will therefore not be tested for in BPI’s new procedures. Some experts fear a similar large-scale outbreak could occur on U.S. soil, and believe companies and the government should test for all dangerous E. coli strains – not just E. coli O157:H7 and The Big Six.
“Today BPI has demonstrated a commitment to food safety,” said Marler Clark managing partner Bill Marler. “I see it as a big step in the right direction, but I’d like to see the USDA and President Obama step up and do what’s right for the American people by declaring not just O157:H7 and The Big Six, but all illness-causing strains of E. coli, adulterants in food.”
Marler said he understands his 2009 petition is held up in the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB). In June he sent a letter to FSIS inquiring about the status of the petition and informing the agency of his plans to file suit should action not be taken by September 1.