California beef linked to Virginia E coli outbreak

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Aug 7, 2008 (CIDRAP News) – An Escherichia coli O157:H7 outbreak at a Boy Scout camp in Virginia has been linked to ground beef from a California company, prompting the firm to recall 153,630 pounds of beef, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported today.

S&S Foods of Azusa, Calif., is recalling 30-pound boxes of frozen ground beef because of possible E coli contamination, the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) said in a news release. The products were sold to food services and institutions, not retail stores, the FSIS said.

The agency said ground beef from the company was used at a Virginia Scout camp where E coli recently broke out. Virginia health officials said in an online update today that 25 E coli cases have been confirmed out of about 84 reported illnesses in Scouts who recently attended the camp in Goshen, Va. Eight scouts have been hospitalized.

"Through our trace-back we confirmed that the camp had some of the S&S food products, and that's what was used in dinners at the camp on certain days," leading to the recall, said Emily Metz, an FSIS spokeswoman in Washington, DC.

"We have 11 culture-confirmed cases of E coli, and 5 of those have a PFGE [pulsed-field gel electrophoresis, or DNA fingerprint] pattern that matches some of the leftover product at the camp, which was produced by S&S Foods," Metz told CIDRAP News today. She said no cases elsewhere have been linked to S&S Foods products so far.

The contamination was discovered through a joint investigation by the FSIS and the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), the FSIS said.

VDH spokeswoman Cheryle Rodriguez said the reason Virginia and the FSIS have mentioned different numbers of confirmed cases (25 versus 11) is that some of the cases have not yet been tied to ground beef. "Those are cases, yes, but we have not confirmed that they're associated with the ground beef," she told CIDRAP News. "Right now that's the main thing we're looking at, but we look at all possibilities."

The ground beef products were shipped to distributors in Allentown, Pa., and Milwaukee, the FSIS said. The 30-pound boxes carry the establishment number "EST. 20375" inside the USDA mark of inspection, and the individual packages are labeled "742798 MFST, 100% GROUND BEEF BULK, 80/20, 1LB. BRICK."

USDA spokeswoman Laura Reiser said the agency will not be releasing a list of establishments that received the meat, as it was not sold in retail stores, according to a Washington Post report published today.

In July the USDA announced it would soon begin listing the names of retail stores that receive food products involved in class 1 (high-risk) recalls. The new policy is to take effect this month.

See also:

Aug 7 FSIS news release
http://www.fsis.usda.gov/News_&_Events/Recall_027_2008_Release/index.asp

Virginia's Jul 31 news release with latest update
http://www.vdh.state.va.us/news/PressReleases/2008/073108ecoli.htm

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