040307 Woman Sues QFC Over “Mad-Cow” Recall

March 6, 2004

Seattle, WA - An Eastside, WA woman who says she bought ground beef that was recalled in December's mad-cow scare is suing her grocery store, saying it was negligent for not alerting her family about the potentially contaminated meat before they ate it.

Jill Crowson of Clyde Hill is seeking unspecified damages from QFC for severe emotional distress. The lawsuit says Crowson, her two children and a niece "feel like walking time bombs" knowing they may be infected with the human form of mad-cow disease, an always-fatal condition that can incubate for decades before symptoms appear.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday in King County Superior Court, seeks class-action status on behalf of "hundreds" of people who bought the affected ground beef from any QFC store in Washington.

Jeff Burt, a QFC vice president in Bellevue, said the company has not seen the lawsuit and declined comment. Instead, Burt read a statement saying QFC always acts in the best interest of customers and that it "reacted quickly and voluntarily removed the ground beef even before a formal recall was announced."

Experts say the odds of getting variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the human form of mad-cow, from eating the meat are extremely low because the most infectious tissues, including the brain and spinal cord, were removed at the time of slaughter.

Crowson's lawsuit rests on the legal argument that QFC was the manufacturer -- not merely the retailer -- of the meat. That's because the grocer reground the meat before offering it for sale, the suit says. As a manufacturer, the suit contends, QFC is subject to the Washington Product Liability Act, which says companies must ensure their products are reasonably safe.

But at least one other person who also ate the recalled meat said a lawsuit may be premature because no one has gotten sick. Brian Weinstein, an attorney who bought some of the same meat at his neighborhood QFC on Mercer Island, said he isn't interested in joining the lawsuit, at least for now.

"I'm hoping that nothing happens to any of us," Weinstein said. "And if nothing happens to any of us, the damages would be so minimal" except emotional distress.

Crowson's lawsuit says she bought the ground beef from a Bellevue QFC on Dec. 22 and on Dec. 23, the day the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the disease had been found in a slaughtered Yakima County dairy cow.

But QFC did not pull the affected meat from its shelves until Dec. 24. The lawsuit also contends that it wasn't until Dec. 27 that QFC posted signs in its stores notifying customers about the recall. By then, the Crowson family had eaten the meat.

Crowson could not be reached for comment. Her attorney, Steve Berman, did not return phone calls.

Federal food recalls are voluntary, and retailers are not required to alert customers that they may have bought tainted products. The USDA has never named the grocery stores or restaurants that sold the recalled meat.

QFC's Burt said the supermarket chain relied in part on newspapers and television to get the word out about the meat recall. QFC, Albertsons, Fred Meyer and several other supermarkets announced Dec. 24 that they were voluntarily taking the meat off their shelves.

In a previous interview with The Seattle Times, Burt said QFC managers didn't realize until Christmas Eve that they carried the potentially tainted meat.


Meat Industry INSIGHTS Newsletter
Meat News Service, Box 553, Northport, NY 11768