Saturday, May 23, 2009

E. coli Claims Another Innocent Life

May 23, 2009

A 7-year old girl will never again play with her friends. She will never skip rope, sing, dance, go swimming, or ride a bicycle. She will never graduate from elementary school. She will never grow up.

All because of E. coli.

Cleveland, OH health officials suspect, but are not yet certain, that her death is linked to contaminated meat recalled on May 21st. Genetic fingerprinting of the E. coli strain that infected her is not yet complete. Nevertheless, they think that her illness might be part of the same outbreak that sickened three other Ohio residents, in addition to an undisclosed number of individuals in Illinois and Pennsylvania.

The ground beef implicated in this outbreak was produced by Valley Meats, LLC (Coal Valley, IL) on March 10, 2009 and distributed across the United States. According to a report in the Detroit Free Press, the meat was sold to institutional customers (such as restaurants and food service establishments) in 11 states. It is likely that most of the nearly 96,000 pounds of recalled meat has already been consumed.

The other three Ohio victims – all of whom have recovered – include a 3-year old girl, and two adult men (24 and 71 years old). Two of them may have become infected after eating at the North Olmsted VFW. Health officials believe that the exposure occurred early in April.

It's possible that this recall may be followed by others, if USDA investigators find that Valley Meats carried over product from one day's grinding to another. And additional cases could be linked to the contaminated meat as health officials compare genetic fingerprints to strains from other "sporadic" cases of E. coli infections. We should know in another week or two. 

How will USDA deal with Valley Meats if the 7-year old's deadly E. coli infection came from their ground beef? Probably with kid gloves, if past experience is any indication. We've seen how effective that approach has been.

What do you think should happen to Valley Meats if this little girl's death is firmly linked to their ground beef? We welcome your suggestions.

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