Why is Hamburger Recalled?

ground-beef-poHamburger is recalled when there is a risk of contamination with E. coli O157:H7 or another dangerous pathogen. E. coli is a stealth pathogen. You can’t see it, taste it or smell it. It doesn’t change the texture of the meat. The only way to find the bacteria is by testing samples of the meat.

In most cases, the recall is issued because testing found E. coli O157 in a sample of the hamburger.  If an outbreak of illnesses is linked to the meat, there may be a recall. Recalls are issued depending on if the hamburger was sold to the public fresh or frozen and whether some of the product is still in the market. In 2012, the USDA classified six more serotypes of E. coli bacteria as adulterants in raw ground beef. They are O26, O45, O103, O111, O121, and O145.

The federal agency charged with inspecting meat and enforcing regulations is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS).

How Does E. coli Get into Hamburger?

E coli O157
E. coli O157:H7 bacteria live in the guts of ruminant animals, including cattle. They enter the human food chain through fecal matter from infected animals. As few as 10 cells of this pathogen are capable of causing human illness.
Contaminated Hamburger
The infection starts when you swallow the contaminated hamburger or any other feces-contaminated food (e.g. lettuce, sprouts, raw milk, unpasteurized cheese). Illnesses can also be caused by contaminated water, animal contact, or contact with another person who is sick.

E. coli O157 and other serotypes of this bacteria live in the intestines of cattle with no ill effects to the animals. The bacteria is excreted in the feces and is then present in the cow manure.  At the slaughter house, unsanitary conditions can result in manure getting on meat before it is ground to make hamburger.  This can result in thousands of pounds of hamburger being contaminated. One bite could be lethal.

Ground beef poses particularly high risks because it is both prone to contamination during production and is often served undercooked.  These risks clearly justify increased testing for pathogenic baceria.

Is a Meat Producer Legally Responsible if Hamburger is Undercooked?

Hamburger contaminated with E. coli O157 and the six nonO157 serotypes is considered “adulterated” under federal law. Anyone sickened by the meat, even if it was undercooked, has a strict liability claim against the processor and possible others (a restaurant, for example). Strict liability says the company has to compensate people who get sick even if the company was not negligent (careless).

If the meat was purchased and cooked at home, anyone sickened by the meat still has a strict liability claim, in addition to other claims, including negligence and breach of contract.

Our E. coli Lawyers Can Help You

Pritzker Hageman law firm is one of the few law firms in the United States that practices extensively in the area of foodborne illness litigation.  The firm has collected millions of dollars on behalf of victims of E. coli O157:H7 poisoning and other foodborne illnesses.  Contact our law firm if you or a loved one contracted an E. coli infection. We have successfully represented many clients who developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a complication that causes kidney failure. Call us at 1-888-377-8900.