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Seattle law firm files sixth lawsuit against ConAgra over Salmonella-tainted pot pies

Marler Clark filed a sixth lawsuit against ConAgra today on behalf of a victim of the Banquet pot pie Salmonella outbreak that sickened hundreds. The lawsuit was filed in Yakima County Superior Court on behalf of Yakima resident Renee Barnes, who became ill with a Salmonella infection in May, 2007 after consuming a Banquet pot pie manufactured by ConAgra.

According to the lawsuit, Ms. Barnes became ill with symptoms of Salmonella poisoning within days of eating a Banquet pot pie in mid-May. She sought medical treatment for her illness on May 16 and May 23, and later learned that a specimen she had provided tested positive for Salmonella. Months afterward, Ms. Barnes learned she was one of 272 people who tested positive for the outbreak strain of Salmonella – Salmonella serotype I4,5,12:i:- and that the Banquet pot pie she had eaten was the source of her illness.

“I represent thousands of people who became ill with Salmonella after eating either pot pies or peanut butter – both products manufactured by ConAgra – this year,” said William Marler, managing partner of Marler Clark. “At this point, not one of them has been compensated for their injuries. It’s about time.”

ConAgra resumed production of its Banquet and store-brand pot pies on November 1, after introducing more stringent testing procedures for ingredients being included in ready-to-cook products and modifying cooking instructions. The firm plans to ship the pot pies to retail outlets in December and anticipates the products being on store shelves by January. 

“If ConAgra is ready to make a profit off these products again, the least they should do is right some wrongs first,” Marler continued. Marler Clark will send a representative and an environmental health expert to attend an inspection of the pot pie plant in Marshall, Missouri, on December 5th.

  • John Munsell

    Your article’s reference to ConAgra introducing more stringent testing procedures is most interesting. For the last few years, an ever-increasing meat industry chorus has been to claim “Testing will not produce safe food”. And they are precisely correct! Testing ALONE, in the absence of effective corrective actions to prevent future recurrences will in and of itself not produce safe food. The value of testing is several fold. First of all, testing reveals contaminated food, the detection of which can prevent its shipment into commerce, benefitting consumers. Testing can also reveal, with additional research and review of evidence, the TRUE ORIGIN of contamination. However, the potential value of testing is usually terminated at this point. Long term, the full value of testing is best accomplished only when corrective actions to prevent recurrences is initiated subsequent to the detection of lab positives and a determination of the TRUE ORIGIN of contamination. With great regularity, when the mega meat companies detect potentially contaminated & adulterated meat, the companies divert the unsafe meat to plants which fully cook the meat prior to the meat being shipped into commerce. Admittedly, introducing this kill step (full cooking) protects consumers, a laudable goal in itself. However, if the non-compliant slaughter facility fails to implement corrective actions, multiple future occurences of the production of contaminated meat is virtually guaranteed. And, no one claims that testing is guaranteed to reveal the presence of pathogens. So, we must acknowledge that even if every 10,000 lb lot of trimmings is tested in the future, some pathogens will still fall through the cracks undetected, and unwittingly shipped into commerce, guaranteeing a plethora of new customers for Marler Clark, which is the last line of defense for victimized consumers of USDA Inspected and Passed products. My point here is that when the huge, multi-national meat plants experience lab tests which are “potential” or “presumptive” positives, the testing is prematurely truncated which denies the possibility to determine if the sample is “Confirmed” positive. Rather than concluding the microbial analysis, the potentially contaminated meat is diverted to a plant which fully cooks all the meat, which kills the pathogen. The big meat plants, and the USDA, consider that the detection of the potentially-contaminated meat, and its diversion to a full cooking plant, constitutes success in the plant’s HACCP plan, because it detected meat which may have been bad, and forced such meat to be fully cooked prior to shipment into commerce. However, an intentionally heinous practice is being perpetrated here, with full USDA endorsement. The question still remains “How did that meat get contaminated in the first place?” Hold onto your hat here. We must remember that E.coli and Salmonella are “Enteric” bacteria, which by definition means they emanate from within animals’ intestines. Therefore, they are being introduced because of sloppy kill floor dressing procedures! Enteric bacteria are not INTRODUCED at downline further processing plants. Such plants are merely the DESTINATION of previously contaminated meat. Please remember that such bacteria are invisible, so personnel at the downline plants cannot detect their presence. Please remember that when such contaminated meat arrives at the downstream further processing plants, the meat arrives in containers bearing the official USDA Mark of Inspection which states “USDA Inspected and Passed”. If the Mark has any value, downline plants and consumers should be able to process and/or consume the “Inspected and Passed” meat absent fear of getting sick. Therefore, the best way to protect consumers (and downline plants, restaurants, grocery stores, etc) is to force the truly noncompliant SOURCE of the pathogen to implement corrective actions to prevent recurrences. However, the truly noncompliant source plants are NOT being forced to implement corrective actions because both the plant and USDA blithely state that the meat plant’s detection of pathogens and its diversion to full cooking plants constitutes success! Until both the USDA and the slaughter plants are forced to admit that the mere presence of contaminated meat indicates sanitation failures on the slaughter floor, and corrective actions mandated and implemented, we are positively guaranteed multiple future recurrences. This unholy alliance of USDA and the big packers is the primary enemy impacting public health. Annual profits of the big packers easily pay all litigation costs. What would be more costly would be mandated slowing of chain speeds on the kill floors, and hiring more employees to manually trim visible contaminants off of carcasses. Furthermore, a greatly increased incidence of company-conducted and USDA-conducted microbial sampling at the huge slaughter plants would quickly reveal the TRUE ORIGIN of pathogen-laced meat, but both the industry and USDA reject the idea of increased testing. Wonder why? Furthermore, all microbial lab results, regardless of who is collecting the samples, should be released to the general public in real time. Once this would happen, it’s easy to see that an educated and incensed public would demand changes, and USDA would be forced out of its current semi-retirement at the big plants, a direct benefit of our allegedly “science based” meat inspection system entitled HACCP. This recumbent USDA must be shocked out of its current “Hands Off” system of meat non-inspection, and the industry must be regulated again, in stark contrast to HACCP’s deregulation.
    John Munsell
    Manager, Foundation for Accountability in Regulatory Enforcement (FARE)
    Miles City, MT
    November 29, 2007