Ground beef recall expands as more E coli illnesses probed

Oct 1, 2007 (CIDRAP News) – A New Jersey meat company recently expanded a recall of its ground beef to include 21.7 million pounds of frozen products that have been linked to as many as 25 Escherichia coli O157:H7 infections in eight states.

The recall was first announced by Topps Meat Company, based in Elizabeth, on Sep 25 but was expanded on Sep 29 after the New York Department of Health (NYDH) found more of the company's product samples were positive for E coli O157:H7, according to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). Additional reports of illnesses and a food safety assessment from the FSIS also contributed to the expanded recall, according to the USDA statement.

The initial recall of 331,582 pounds of the company's frozen ground beef products was prompted by an investigation by the NYDH and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) into a reported cluster of illnesses in northeastern states, according to a Sep 25 press release from the USDA.

"Because the health and safety of our consumers is our top priority, we are taking these expansive measures," said Geoffrey Livermore, vice president of operations at Topps, in a press release.

Products that are the subject of the recall were distributed to grocery stores and food service institutions throughout the United States, the company statement said. The recalled products have "sell by" or "best if used by" dates ranging from Sep 25, 2007 to Sep 25, 2008. All recalled products have the USDA establishment number EST 9748 printed on the back panel of the package or within the USDA label, according to the USDA statement.

Topps said it believes that most of the recalled product has already been consumed.

Health officials are investigating 25 E coli O157:H7 illnesses that may be linked to the Topps ground beef, the USDA said. The cases include patients from Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Maine, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

Recent major outbreaks of E coli O157:H7 have been linked with fresh produce, but overall the pathogen has more commonly been found in ground beef. The strain 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 it can cause hemolytic uremic syndrome, potentially leading to kidney failure or death, in 2% to 7% of patients.

Following a massive ground beef recall in 2002, the USDA required meatpacking plants to review their safety systems and take specific steps to reduce E coli contamination. The agency said the steps led to declines in contamination found by USDA sampling and fewer ground beef recalls.

However, industry and health officials are concerned that some of the safety gains have eroded. US meat producers have issued eight recalls related to E coli contamination so far this year, which is more than they issued during all of 2006, according to previous news reports.

See also:

Sep 29 USDA press release

Sep 25 USDA press release
 

Sep 28 New York Health Department press release

Jun 11 CIDRAP News story "Six-state E coli outbreak blamed on ground beef"

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