FAMILY SUES STOP & SHOP IN E. COLI CASE

QUINCY, Mass. - Stop & Shop here is prepared to defend itself against a lawsuit filed on behalf of an 8-year-old boy and his parents who contend the boy became ill with an E. coli 0157:H7 infection after eating ground beef purchased at a Manchester, N.H., store last September."We do not believe that the meat was contaminated with E. coli at Stop & Shop and we will vigorously defend that position in

QUINCY, Mass. - Stop & Shop here is prepared to defend itself against a lawsuit filed on behalf of an 8-year-old boy and his parents who contend the boy became ill with an E. coli 0157:H7 infection after eating ground beef purchased at a Manchester, N.H., store last September.

"We do not believe that the meat was contaminated with E. coli at Stop & Shop and we will vigorously defend that position in court," said Robert Keane, spokesman for the 375-store chain, a division of Ahold.

The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Concord, N.H., earlier this month, on behalf of Hercules "Eric" Tsirovakas and his parents. It seeks compensation for the family's medical-related expenses and economic losses, and the victim's pain and suffering. Tsirovakas' medical bills exceeded $100,000.

"We filed the lawsuit after months of trying to discuss with Stop & Shop how to make matters right for Eric and his family," said Denis Stearns, the Marler Clark partner who filed the lawsuit, in a statement. Seattle-based Marler Clark has experience litigating E. coli cases against a number of supermarket chains.

According to the law firm, the city of Manchester's Department of Health and the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services concluded that the source of the E. coli infection was contaminated ground beef purchased from Stop & Shop.

Keane declined to comment on the record about this.

The Manchester store was cited for unsafe meat-handling practices.

"Our store passed its health inspection after correcting its [unsafe meat handling] violation," Keane said. "Our food safety teams will continue to work hard to ensure that we meet and exceed all regulatory guidelines and provide our customer with the best possible shopping experience."

According to Marler Clark, Tsirovakas consumed a hamburger made from ground beef purchased at Stop & Shop at a family barbecue on Sept. 4, 2005. He subsequently became ill with an E. coli 0157:H7 infection, developed Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome and required kidney dialysis.

People most commonly become infected with E. coli by eating undercooked ground beef but it can also be transmitted by drinking contaminated water or unpasteurized milk, and working with cattle.

"Stop & Shop follows all food safety regulations and guidelines and works hard to ensure that its meat is safe to eat," Keane said. "We also recommend all consumers follow safe cooking procedures and cook all meat fully before serving and eating."

In recent years, officials have credited a decrease in E. coli infections to enhanced food safety systems, new technologies to reduce or eliminate pathogens, and increased testing of the control measures. In 2002, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service implemented new recommendations to combat E. coli 0157:H7 in ground beef.