E coli infections prompt beef recalls

Apr 23, 2007 (CIDRAP News) – Two beef producers recently announced recalls of steak and hamburger products because of possible contamination with Escherichia coli O157:H7, following a small number of infections in California and Pennsylvania.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health (PDH) said in an Apr 20 press release that it was investigating five cases of E coli O157:H7 infection in people from four counties who ate rare or medium-rare steak at four different Hoss's Steak and Sea House restaurants.

Four of the patients were hospitalized, but none developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a potentially fatal kidney condition that can be triggered by E coli infection, according to the PDH.

The patients had eaten at the restaurants between Mar 24 and 26, the PDH said. All ate different cuts of steak, and several reported they requested and consumed their steak rare or medium rare.

An investigation by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and the PDH linked the illnesses to HFX, Inc, a South Claysburg, Pa., producer that supplied several steak products to restaurants in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia, according to an FSIS press release. The company recalled 254,346 pounds of its steak products distributed only to restaurants, as well as 4,884 pounds of ground beef patties produced between Apr 5 and 19 that were distributed to retail stores in Pennsylvania.

Steaks aren't usually considered a high-risk source of E coli O157:H7 contamination, but the recalled products were injected with tenderizers and flavor-enhancing solutions, which could have transferred the bacteria to the inside of the meat, the FSIS said. Steaks that are injected with solutions or are mechanically tenderized require a higher cooking temperature than steaks not so treated, so such products should not be served rare, the FSIS said.

In the California E coli outbreak, Richwood Meat Co, Inc., a producer based in Merced, Calif., recalled about 107,943 pounds of frozen ground beef products because of possible contamination, according to an Apr 20 FSIS press release.

At least three children fell ill after eating the company's products, which were served at Little League baseball snack counters in two California towns, the Associated Press (AP) reported today. The children have recovered, and test results on samples from the children and the meat are expected on Apr 25, Mike Bowman, a spokesperson for the California Department of Health, told the AP.

The FSIS said the ground beef was produced on Apr 28, 2006, and was distributed to retail outlets in Arizona, California, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington under several brand names: Fireriver, Blackwood Farms, Chef's Pride, Ritz Food, California Pacific Associates, C&C Distributing, Golbon, and Richwood.

Steve Wood, vice president of Richwood Meat, said he believed the contaminated meat came from one of the slaughterhouses that supplied the meat, but he didn't know which one, the AP reported.

E coli O157:H7 produces a toxin that causes diarrhea—often bloody—and abdominal cramps but typically no fever. The illness usually resolves in 5 to 10 days but can cause hemolytic uremic syndrome in 2% to 7% of patients.

See also:

Apr 20 PDH press release

Apr 20 FSIS press release on Pennsylvania company recall

Apr 20 FSIS press release on California company recall

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