The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has issued a recall for more than 41,000 lbs of ground beef that has been linked to an outbreak of E. coli poisoning. Nine people, including one child, became sick with E. coli O157:H7 after eating ground beef distributed by Oregon-based Interstate Meats under the “Northwest Finest” brand. While two of those sickened had to be hospitalized, health officials have said that everyone is now recovering.
The E. coli tainted beef was sold in grocery stores in Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington between July 19 and July 30. Because it is past its “Sell By” date, the ground beef should no longer be in grocery stores. But many consumers could have the contaminated meat in their freezers, so the USDA is urging people in the states were it was sold to check labels on any ground beef packages before they are used. The recall includes 16-ounce packages of “Northwest Finest 7% FAT, NATURAL GROUND BEEF” with a UPC code of 752907 600127. The recall also covers “Northwest Finest 10% FAT ORGANIC GROUND BEEF”. The UPC code is not available for that variety. All of the packages bear the number “Est. 965” in the USDA inspection mark, and “Sell By” dates between August 1 and August 11. Anyone with this meat in their homes should not use it. The contaminated ground beef can be returned to the store where it was purchased for a refund.
E. coli contamination has been responsible for several recalls this year that involved millions of pounds of meat. Considering that in 2006, E. coli related recalls involved only 156,000 pounds of beef, this year’s numbers are alarming. Some of the biggest recalls occurred earlier this summer. In June, United Food Group recalled 5 million pounds of meat. That recall was followed by another that involved 40,000 lbs of E. coli-tainted beef products produced by Tyson Fresh Meat, Inc.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), E. coli O157:H7 is one of the leading causes of food borne illness in the U.S. The CDC estimates that there are at least 73,000 cases of infection and 61 deaths every year as a result of this E. coli strain. But the number could be much higher, because many cases of E. coli poisoning are never reported. The E. coli O157:H7 bacterium causes bloody diarrhea and dehydration. Young children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems are particularly vulnerable to E. coli. In some rare instances, the disease can progress to the point of kidney failure and death. While most people who suffer from E. coli poisoning recover within 7 to 10 days, extreme cases can require blood transfusions and dialysis treatments.
E. coli bacteria can be killed if meat is cooked to an internal temperature of 160-degrees. The internal temperature of meat can only be gauged with a food thermometer, and color is not an indication of a food’s internal temperature. Keeping raw meat away from other foods and using proper hand washing practices can also prevent E. coli poisoning. Consumers can find more information on safe food preparation from the “virtual representative” on the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service website at www.AskKaren.gov