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Outbreak News

Suit sounds alarm on tainted meat

03.oct.07

Times Union

Cathleen Crowley

COLONIE -- Emily McDonald celebrated the last day of summer camp by getting her face painted and unknowingly eating a tainted Topps hamburger off the camp grill, her mother said.

No other children at the Colonie Youth Center Summer Camp became ill, including Emily's 6-year-old brother, Ethan.

"Luckily, he ate a hot dog," said Emily's mother, Catherine McDonald.

The number of E. coli cases connected to the tainted Topps hamburger meat has risen to 27 people in eight states, including two children and six adults in New York, state officials say. The company has voluntarily recalled 21.7 million pounds of frozen patties, a year's worth of hamburger and the second largest meat recall in U.S. history.

New York's state labs were the first to confirm that Topps hamburgers caused the E. coli outbreak and notified New Yorkers on Sept. 25.

The McDonalds and the family of a Florida teenager are suing Topps Meat Co., located in Elizabeth, N.J. In an interview Tuesday, McDonald said her family is not looking for a windfall, just reimbursement for the out-of-pocket medical expenses they spent for Emily's treatment and more attention to the E. coli outbreak.

"This is to put more spotlight on the recall and how careful you have to be to cook your hamburgers to 160," McDonald said. "It's still possible that people in the Capital District still have those burgers."

The McDonald family lives in North Colonie, but has a Watervliet address. Catherine McDonald is an accountant, and her husband, Robert McDonald, is the chief operating officer at a credit union.

Eight-year-old Emily ate the burger on Friday, Aug. 17, during a picnic celebrating the last day of camp at the Colonie Youth Center program at Southgate Elementary School. Usually, the children bring their own lunches.

A few days later, Emily had a fever and diarrhea. Her family took her to St. Peter's Hospital when the diarrhea became bloody and Emily looked dehydrated. Emily's 16-year-old brother, Drew, carried her into the emergency room.

A nurse noted how quiet and reserved Emily was, although she has never been described as quiet, McDonald said. Painful stomach cramps curbed her cheerful personality.

Doctors could not give Emily antibiotics or pain killers, which can slow the expulsion of the bacteria from the body and cause more complications, said Josh Schaffzin, the state Department of Health's medical director of the regional epidemiology program.

After 2 days in the hospital and several weeks recovering at home, Emily was able to start school with her third-grade classmates at St.

Pius X School in Loudonville. She's returned to her soccer team and is starting saxophone lessons.

"But she'll never eat a hamburger again," her mom said.

Colonie Youth Center runs about 10 camps across North and South Colonie with about 50 campers at each one. The Southgate site was the only one that had a barbecue picnic, said April Castle, the center's director of school age child care.

College students hired to work at the camp for the summer cooked the burgers and had been trained about food safety and health department codes, Castle said.

No other families have called the center to report a child became sick after eating the burgers, she said.

The center's staff worked with investigators from the Albany County Health Department, and with the help of the Price Chopper discount card used to purchase the burgers, health officials determined the exact batch of Topps burgers the camp used. Health officials told the McDonald family that E. coli found in an unopened package purchased from Price Chopper matched the strain that sickened Emily.

The Colonie center didn't inform families of other campers because Castle said health officials didn't share the results of the investigation with them.

"I have not heard officially from anybody that there has been a definite connection," she said.

County health department spokeswoman Kerri Battle confirmed that the agency had not notified the center because the investigation is still ongoing.

Catherine McDonald said she has no hard feelings toward the camp.

More on this outbreak: Topps Meats E. coli Outbreak

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