The family of a 62-year-old man with Down Syndrome who died shortly after eating ground beef has filed suit against Tyson Fresh Mears, JBS USA andBeef Products Inc., among others. The lawsuit, filed by the Marler Clark law firm on behalf of the family of Robert Danell, accuses BPI and the other companies for the sale of “unreasonably dangerous” food that led to Danell’s death in 2010.

Danell was one of 25 people sickened in 17 states due to an 2009 E. coli outbreak that was traced to a JBS Swift slaughterhouse in Greeley, Colo., reports the New York Daily News. National Steak and Poultry, which had purchased its meat from the Swift plant, recalled 246,000 pounds of its products as a result of the outbreak, though there were reports of other illnesses not linked to its products. Danell are a hamburger and Swedish meatballs in December, 2009 at a facility in Minnesota, and both meals included ground beef from Tyson that included BPI’s lean finely textured ground beef. He started experiencing symptoms of E. coli-related illness on Jan. 4 and died on June 19, 2010.

“I am 99.99 percent sure that my client’s death is linked to LFTB that BPI sold to Tyson,” Bill Marler, the attorney filing the lawsuit, told the Daily News.

“Your hamburger has trim from a bunch of different sources. Because of that trying to find the source of bacteria gets unclear really fast,” Carlota Medus, senior epidemiologist for the Minnesota Department of Health, told the Daily News. “Tyson gets trim from multiple suppliers, and has its own slaughterhouses, but I don’t think it’s likely this came from anyone but BPI.”

Neither Tyson nor BPI recalled any products as a result of the outbreak. BPI’s founder and CEO Eldon Roth issued a statement that called the lawsuit without merit and said the company will aggressively defend itself.

“For over 30 years we have dedicated ourselves to providing consumers with the safest, highest quality, lean beef,” the statement read. “We employ rigorous food safety systems to include the most extensive finished product sampling/hold and test program in the industry. All our products sold to any ground beef processor would have tested negative for E. coli O157:H7. It is our understanding that the ground beef obtained from one of the individuals involved in the Minnesota Department of Health investigation and which contained LFTB was tested for the presence of E. coli O157:H7 and tested negative. Further, based upon the type of ground beef consumed in this case, we know that no trim from the facility alleged to be the source of the E. coli O157:H7 outbreak would have been included in the LFTB we sold to Tyson Fresh Meats. Obviously, no ground beef allegedly linked to any of the Minnesota illnesses ever tested positive or showed presence of E. coli O157:H7 or the producer would have implemented a recall.

“To assure that E. coli O157:H7 is not in the lean beef you buy:

•             We have raw material purchase specifications requiring control of the pathogen during slaughter, specifications which we routinely audit against.

•             We have the best raw beef intervention in use today to destroy E. coli O157:H7, an intervention repeatedly validated by independent third parties.

•             We have the most rigorous sampling and test/hold system that ensures us and you that we will detect potential pathogens.  By comparison to the FSIS or industry standard, we take nearly three times the number of samples, giving our program a much higher statistical confidence level.  No product is shipped to you without a negative test result.

“The strategy we employ has proven very effective in controlling E. coli O157:H7. As each of you that has ever visited one of our facilities knows, we spend endless hours developing and improving not only our products, but those facilities as well. We not only have room pressurized airflow (to prevent infiltration from the outside environment), we have systems that sanitize the very air. When sanitary equipment from other vendors doesn’t meet our standards, we design and build our own. We have invested literally millions of dollars in sanitary design. We have been proud to show our plants to customers and consumer groups. Everyone who has ever visited was impressed by all we do. If you have never been to our facilities, or if you want to come back, please be our guest.”

Sources: New York Daily News, Marler Clark Law Firm, Beef Products Inc.