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Cargill Meat Solutions of Fort Morgan, Colorado is recalling 132,606 pounds of ground beef. Why? The beef is contaminated with the bacteria E. coli. Here’s the latest on the Cargill Beef E coli Outbreak, linked to Publix stores.
The Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) announced the recall on September 19th. They identified the bacterial strain as Escherichia coli O26 and said that the ground beef products in question were made from chuck, a cut of beef from the shoulder region of the cow.
Cargill produced and packaged the items on June 21st, according to the press release put out by the FSIS. Most of the products identified for recall were 3 and 10 pound chubs with a use by date of July 11th, 2018. They share an establishment code of EST. 86R on the package, and were distributed to a range of different retailers nationwide.
Illnesses started on July 5th and ran through July 25th. Six of the victims were hospitalized. According to the CDC, one of the victims was ill enough to develop a type of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome. Another victim in Florida passed away.
Victims reported their illnesses in the states Colorado, Tennessee, Massachusetts, and Florida. Florida bore the brunt of the outbreak, with 15 of the 18 cases reported to date. CDC data indicate that the victims ranged in age from 1 to 75. The median age was 16. Two thirds of the victims were male.
The FSIS learned of an investigation into illnesses caused by E. coli O26 on August 16th. Working with state health officials and the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, they launched an investigation to determine the origin of the bacteria. This was accomplished through PulseNet, a national database of genetic information that allows investigators to type, track, and compare pathogens.
Samples of E. coli were taken from several different patients and subject to different methods of genetic analysis. The results indicated that eighteen people in four states had been infected by strains of E. coli O26. The strains were closely related genetically. This indicated that the bacteria had come from a common source.
That genetic profile matched E. coli taken from a sample of ground beef in the home of one victim in Colorado. That too seemed to point to a common source for the infection.
Genetic analysis of bacteria taken from 13 patients did not indicate that this strain of E. coli O26 was resistant to antibiotics. However, investigators say further testing is currently underway.
To supplement the genetic testing, investigators conducted interviews with victims. Investigators asked about what they had eaten in the time leading up to their illness. Each of the fourteen people interviewed indicated that they had eaten ground beef in the week before they got sick; they indicated that they’d purchased the ground beef from a range of different grocery stores.
Working from the businesses that victims had reported shopping at, investigators attempted to zero in on the beef in question. Several of the victims in Florida had indicated that they bought the meat at Publix Supermarket locations. That initiated a recall of ground beef chuck products from several Publix locations on August 30th.
Investigators were subsequently able to determine that the tainted beef sold by Publix and other grocery stores had originated from a company called Cargill Meat Solutions in Fort Morgan, Colorado. Working with the FSIS, the CDC, and local health officials, Cargill announced that they were recalling more than a hundred thousand pounds of the meat on September 19th.
Although retailers sold the ground beef with a best by date of mid-July, authorities are concerned that some might still be in customer’s freezers. They’re urging anyone who currently has frozen beef purchased at Publix or one of the other affected grocery stores to check the label. Consumers should be sure that any recalled products aren’t in their freezer. If you do have meat affected by the recall, health authorities ask that you don’t eat it and instead throw it out.
Escherichia coli O26 is one of the varieties of E. coli that produce a nasty chemical called shiga toxin. Not all of the E. coli that produce shiga toxin cause illness in people, but those that do are quite serious. Symptoms manifest within 2 to 8 days, most often showing up between day 3 and day 4 after exposure. They’re a bit harsher than your typical case of food poisoning; vomiting is common, as is bloody diarrhea.
Like other strains that produce shiga toxin, O26 can cause a debilitating condition called hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS). HUS is a condition that most often affects children. The condition’s symptoms include kidney failure, the loss of red blood cells leading to anemia, and a low count of platelets in the blood. Hemolytic-uremic syndrome is quite deadly, and proves fatal for five to ten percent of those unfortunate enough to develop it.
There are some steps that you can take to avoid infection by E. coli in the food that you eat. The first and most important step is to wash your hands; do so thoroughly with hot soapy water for at least twenty seconds. There are many different effective hand washing techniques; this writer personally is fan of rubbing his hands together like Scrooge McDuck might after seeing a briefcase full of money. Remember to get the spaces between your fingers and the back of your hands as well, and to dry afterwards to discourage the spread of bacteria. If soap and water aren’t available, alcoholic disinfectant will do in a pinch.
Another key method to avoid infection with E. coli is to cook foods to a safe internal temperature that’s too hot for bacteria to survive. The USDA recommends nothing less than 160 degrees fahrenheit for ground beef, checked with a meat thermometer. Remember to keep your surfaces and utensils clean, as well, and you can seriously cut down on your risk of illness.
By: Sean McNulty, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)