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Some Stolen E. Coli Beef Found, But Most Still Missing

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Texas healthofficials have recovered a portion of stolen beef that was potentially tainted with E. coli, still much of the meat remains unaccoutned for. Only one box – worth about $20.00 — from the nearly 15,000 lbs of meat that was taken from a tractor trailer last month was confiscated fromo the Chicken Shack in Dalls before it could be cooked or sold to anyone else.

Earlier this week, E. Coli Blog reported that eight businesses, mostly restaurant, as well as one barbershop were contacted by someone selling the beef. The Dallas Business Journal reported the health department is contacting businesses and inspecting restaurants in the North Dallas area; it was during their review of 80 area businesses that the Dallas Health Department discovered the scam. The beef in question is likely related to a public health alert issued by U.S. regulators last month for about 14,800 pounds—671 kilos—of missing ground beef products that may be contaminated with a potentially deadly E. coli bacteria. The alert came after a refrigerated trailer containing ground beef was reported stolen by Texas American Food Service Corporation. When recovered on December 27th in Dallas, the majority of the trailer’s contents were missing.

A portion of the beef was set aside because the company thought it may have been tainted with E. coli. The Fort Worth, Texas firm conducts business as American Fresh Foods, a privately held meat producer and is working with the USDA and local and state police; consumers are warned not to purchase ground beef from questionable vendors. The USDA’s December 27th public health alert covers ground beef products packaged for consumer use and produced on December 19th carrying the establishment number “EST. 13116″ on the package labels. Consumers are advised to check for these products in their homes and to NOT eat these products. If unopened packages are found, immediately contact the company and no NOT throw them away intact; opened packages should be destroyed.

E. coli 0157:H7—Escherichia coli 0157:H7—is one of hundreds of E. coli strains, the vast majority of which are harmless. Strain 0157:H7 is quite virulent and produces a powerful toxin that can cause severe illness and even death and is the leading cause of food and waterborne illness in the United States. According to Center of Disease Control (CDC) estimates, there are over 70,000 cases of infection and 61 deaths occurring in the U.S. annually with most illness linked to undercooked or contaminated meat. Although E. coli is routinely found on cattle farms and in the intestines of healthy livestock, outbreaks only occur when meat becomes tainted during slaughter, the bacteria contaminates the grounding process, and tainted meat is released and consumed by the public. Symptoms of E. coli 0157:H7 illness include potentially severe stomach cramps, diarrhea and dehydration. Children, the elderly and people with poor immune systems are most vulnerable.

The Dallas and U.S Department of Agriculture are stepping up site visits and restaurant inspectors are distributing flyers concerning the black market meat scam.

There were more than 52 meat recalls in 2007.

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