Illness cluster triggers bison meat recall

Jul 6, 2010 (CIDRAP News) – A cluster of Escherichia coli infections prompted a Colorado company on Jul 2 to recall its ground and tenderized steak bison products, the US Department of Agriculture announced.

The recall by Rocky Mountain Natural Meats, based in Henderson, Colo., applies to 66,000 pounds of the company's products that were distributed to retail outlets nationwide and to foodservice distributors in Utah and Arizona, according to a recall notice posted by the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

The FSIS said it became aware of the problem during an investigation of a cluster of E coli O157:H7 in Colorado with illness onset dates between Jun 4 and Jun 9. Federal and state officials have identified five case-patients in Colorado and one in New York, all of whom have an indistinguishable pulse-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) pattern. The FSIS said it has found an association between the ground bison products and the Colorado patients.

The FSIS said its investigation, which also includes the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and state health departments, is continuing.

The affected products bear the establishment number "EST. 20247" inside the USDA inspection mark. They were produced between May 21 and May 27. The products have "sell or freeze by" dates ranging from Jun 20 to Jun 24.

Neil Gaffney, a press officer with the FSIS, told CIDRAP News that bison meat is not subject to the same type of FSIS E coli O157:H7 testing as ground beef is. However, he added that the Agriculture Marketing Act provides a means for companies to undergo voluntary inspection of bison slaughter and processing by the FSIS. The voluntary program uses definitions and standards of the Federal Meat Inspection Act to determine the healthfulness and fitness for human food of voluntarily inspected products, he added.

CIDRAP News was unable to determine by publication deadline if Rocky Mountain Natural Meats participates in FSIS voluntary ground beef inspection. In a recorded message on its recall hotline, the company said the safety of its products for consumers is a top concern and that the recall is the company's first in 25 years.

In the company profile section of its Web site, Rocky Mountain Natural Meats said it tests its products daily for E coli contamination.

The recall is the second involving ground bison in 3 years. In July 2007, Custom Pack, Inc., based in Hastings, Neb., recalled 5,920 pounds of its ground meat products, which included ground buffalo patties, because of possible E coli O157:H7 contamination. The recall was prompted by sampling done by the Nebraska Department of Health Services as part of an investigation into a reported illness.

A 2004 study by researchers from North Dakota State University on the prevalence of foodborne pathogens on bison carcasses at a Midwestern processing facility found that antimicrobial strategies in use at the time in the plant were relatively effective in reducing Listeria and E coli contamination on bison carcasses, but more study was needed to gauge the effect of slaughter practices on carcass contamination. Levels of E coli on pre-hiding bison carcasses was about 88%, but was 11.3% on chilled carcasses.

They concluded that while bison meat may not be a significant source of foodborne pathogens seen in other meat industries, new interventions should be developed to ensure the overall safety of the product.

See also:

Jul 2 USDA FSIS news release

Rocky Mountain Natural Meats Web site

Jul 25, 2007, USDA FSIS news release

Dec 2004 Food Microbiology study

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