October 31, 2009
The E. coli O157:H7 outbreak that began with a group of Rhode Island school children has spread to include victims in New Hampshire, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Maine, according to information contained in a USDA recall notice and a story published by Food Safety News.
At least, we think that all the illnesses are related. No one has actually confirmed in print that the same strain of E. coli O157:H7 has been recovered from all of the 30 or more outbreak victims.
The story broke on October 21st, when the Rhode Island Department of Health announced that 15 children who had participated in a school field trip had fallen ill. The sick middle-school children were part of a group of more than 200 sixth grade boys and girls who spent three days at Camp Bournedale in Massachusetts. By October 26th, more than 20 children and their chaperons were suffering from gastroenteritis. Two children were hospitalized.
Camp Bournedale served hamburgers made using ground beef patties supplied by Crocetti's Oakdale Packing Co. of Brockton, MA. Crocetti's recalled more than 1,000 pounds of fresh ground beef patties after investigators recovered E. coli O157:H7 from a sample of the Company's meat.
Earlier today, USDA advised consumers of another – much larger – recall of ground beef. This recall, too, is related to an outbreak investigation. According to the USDA announcement, an unspecified number of E. coli O157:H7 infections associated with today's recall have been reported in Connecticut, Maine and Massachusetts. Food Safety News reports – based on interviews conducted by Bill Marler with some outbreak victims and their families – that more than 30 victims have been identified; five of them are hospitalized. One New Hampshire resident has died.
The latest meat recall, initiated by Fairbank Farms of Ashville, NY, comprises more than 545,000 thousand pounds of fresh ground beef products. Much of this meat was distributed in retail-ready packaging under a variety of store brands, including: Trader Joes, Price Chopper, Lancaster, Wild Harvest, Shaw's, BJ's, Ford Brothers and Giant. Cases of ground beef chubs also were sold for reprocessing to retailers in Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. There is no specific indication in the recall notice that Fairbank Farms supplied meat to Crocetti's.
Fairbank Farms is a processing facility, not a slaughterhouse. The meat that went into the recalled ground beef was obtained from cattle that were slaughtered elsewhere. An obvious question – and one that I hope USDA is working hard to address – is, "Which other processing establishments received meat from that same slaughterhouse?"
This latest outbreak and recall is just one more example of what will continue to take place unless we change our strategy for controlling E. coli O157:H7 in raw meat.