E. coli for everyone!

The big news, its another beef recall due to E. coli. And not just any ole’ bug, but the O157:H7 variety of E. coli.   From the linked article:

The U.S. Agriculture Department on Friday said Omaha meat packing company Nebraska Beef Ltd is recalling 1.2 million pounds of beef because it may be contaminated with a particularly dangerous strain of E. coli.

The recall is of beef prepared for shipment to retailers but not yet cut up in supermarket sized portions.

The recall is “Class 1,” meaning there is a “reasonable probability” that eating the beef “will cause serious, adverse health consequences or death,” the USDA said. It is the most dangerous level of the three classes of recall.

USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service said the beef was sent to processing establishments and retail stores across the United States and had been produced June 17, June 24 and July 8.

How likely is that the beef involved is still sitting in processing establishments and retail stores waiting to get broken down in to smaller packages for the consumer? In case you missed it, Nebraska Beef had a massive ground beef recall earlier this year. And the company has had some major compliance issues with USDA inspections over the last several years. 

Making bigger headlines today but related to the Nebraska Beef problems is Whole Foods voluntary recall of ground beef sold in stores since June:

Whole Foods Market, the top US organic foods supermarket chain, announced this weekend a voluntary recall of fresh ground beef it sold since June 2 due to potential contamination with E. coli bacteria.
The beef “apparently came from Coleman Natural Beef, whose Nebraska Beef processing plant was previously subject to a nationwide recall for E. coli 0157:H7 contamination,” Whole Foods said.

According to Whole Foods, they didn’t know that Coleman was sending their beef to Nebrask Beef for processing.

In a smaller recall, S&S Foods of California is recalling ground meat after a boy scout camp experienced an outbreak of E. coli. 

S&S Foods of Azusa, Calif., is recalling 30-pound boxes of ground beef that went to distribution centers in Milwaukee and Allentown, Pa. The company is acting on the recommendation of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, agency spokeswoman Laura Reiser said yesterday.

The meat was intended for food service companies and institutions and was not being sold in stores, Reiser said. The Agriculture Department would not say where the beef might have gone, she said. “From a public health standpoint, that’s not going to help the consumer or the doctor to treat their illness,” she said.


Not in to E. Coli, how about some salmonella? A recent outbreak in the UK has affected approximately 90 people with at least one death.  The investigation there has found a possible source in Dawn Farm Foods in Ireland.  The meat was sold to Subway stores. This outbreaks is notable in that the average age of the people sickened is just 29. The strain linked to this outbreak, salmonella agona is rare, accounting for approximately 1.5% of salmonella infections.
More here and here.

Don’t forget the pets!
Mars Petcare US announced a voluntary recall of 100 of the 20-pound bags of PEDIGREE(R) Complete Nutrition Small Crunchy Bites sold in Southern California and Las Vegas, Nevada to a limited number of Albertsons locations due to potential Salmonella contamination.

During the height of the tomato/pepper/cilantro/salsa/something from Mexico Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak, there were news reports of an isolated poisioning by salmonella in Lake Garda, Italy. Approximately 30 people, mostly British tourists fell ill while on vacation at a hotel is this area. The onset of illness was very quick and one man died within 24 hours. An autopsy was carried out and eventually, the owner of the hotel was charged with manslaughter. Since early July, I haven’t been able to find any English-language updates to this story so I don’t know the current status of the hotel manager’s case or what the final determination for the source or type of infection. I was quite surprised to learn that the Italian authorities had charged the owner with such a serious crime. I guess here in America we just sue the pants of whomever has the deep pockets (i.e. Wal-Mart is the first to be named defendant after the outbreak here).

By the way, the Mexican authorities are rather insistent that their own testing has not found a positive pepper in conflict with the FDA’s claims that they found 1 pepper on a farm in Tamaulipas state that had the same salmonella which caused the S. saintpaul outbreak.
However, Agricola Zaragoza, the distribution center that provided the first real pepper clue, is recalling peppers distributed between June 30 and July 21 (the date of the press release) due to a possible contamination with Salmonella Saintpaul:

The jalapeno peppers were distributed to customers in GA and TX. The jalapeno peppers being recalled were shipped in 35-lb plastic crates and in 50-lb bags with no brand name or label.

The recall is a result of sampling by FDA, which revealed that these jalapeno peppers were contaminated with the same strain of Salmonella Saintpaul responsible for the current Salmonella outbreak. It is unknown at this time which, if any, of the more than 1,200 illnesses reported to date are related to this particular product or to the grower who supplied this product.

No name or label. Useful.

Burgers Gone Bad

This was initially reported in the press last week. On June 18, the Michigan Department of Community Health noted a sharp increase in E. coli cases for the month of June. Normally reports for this time of year average 10 per month.  By the time of the press release, there were 29 cases and many lab tests indicated a link.  Ground meat was the suspected source.

The following day, the Detroit Free Press reported a link between cases in Michigan and Ohio but no source had been identified.  Today, the Free Press is reporting that Health Departments in Michigan and Ohio have traced  some of the infections to contaminated ground beef sold in Kroger stores.

Accompanying most of these stories are warnings to thoroughly cook hamburgers.  Its summertime, lots of people are grilling. Foodborne illnesses go way up in the summer, on a local scale.  Going to a neighborhood block party, you’ll be exposed to pathogens from every person’s kitchen.  Presuming they keep a clean kitchen, you still have to worry about undercooked meat and mayo that’s been sitting out too long.

E. coli is not one bacterium, its actually a group of bugs that vary in intensity.  Most cases of food poisoning come from E. Coli O157:H7.  Symptoms vary from a little “stomach bug” or the “24 hour flu” to severe diarrhea, vomiting and a mid-grade fever.  For some, particularly children, the elderly and those with suppressed immune systems, E. coli infection can progress to hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).  This complication occurs in approximately 5-10% of those with E. coli infections.  Symptoms include decreased frequency of urination, feeling very tired, and losing pink color in cheeks and inside the lower eyelids. Persons with HUS should be hospitalized because their kidneys may stop working and they may develop other serious problems.

E. coli is spread in animal waste, including human waste!  Besides not licking a cow’s butt, you might want to think about washing your hands often when near animals or handling raw meat, after using the bathroom or changing a diaper.  Consider also not drinking the water from the kid’s pool.

If you want to keep E. coli from your ground meat products- you might want to buy your own steaks and grind it yourself. Or buy from a market that does the on-site grinding fresh when you request it.  This does not eliminate the chance of taking home some “extras” in your burgers but it does help.  In large animal processing operations, a lot of mess is made when the cows come to slaughter.  Its not always easy to keep all the waste products from the carcass so even a gorgeous t-bone can be contaminated with the microscopic critters.

And seriously, if you don’t know the quality or source of that burger, you ought to be sure its cooked thoroughly.  Save the medium rare or grill-kissed for a steak.

Salmonella and E. coli are the two most common foodborne bacteria that may cause illness.  Norovirus and Hepatitis A are viral contaminants known to show up in food or in food-serving areas.

For more info on E. Coli please visit the CDC’s website, here.