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E. Coli in Michigan and Ohio Might be Linked to Ground Beef Recall

Jun 23, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

Ohio and Michigan continue to investigate if their shared and growing E. coli cases, now numbering in the dozens, are linked to ground beef.  To date, neither the federal government nor local health officials had found a definitive link or announced any recalls.  The cases in Ohio are up to 15, with 11 genetically linked and pointing to a common infection source and also matched to two others in Ohio and nine in Michigan.  That outbreak has sickened about 29 in Michigan, hospitalizing five there.  Six from Ohio have been hospitalized.  No deaths have been linked to this outbreak.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) became involved when the link was revealed; however, spokeswoman Lola Russell said she didn't know how long the investigation would take and that the CDC is just beginning to collect information.  The CDC is not a regulatory agency; it is the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) which would announce recalls.

Meanwhile, Al Granaldi, vice president of a New Jersey hamburger plant—Dutch’s Meat—said officials are reviewing if the Ohio and Michigan illnesses are linked to a 13,275 hamburger pound recall by Dutch’s June 8 when it was found to be possibly tainted with Escherichia coli.  Dutch's receives meat from a number of suppliers and it’s possible one of those suppliers sold Dutch’s tainted meat and also distributed that meat to Ohio, Michigan, and elsewhere, Granaldi said.  While Granaldi refused to name a supplier, he noted a Midwest supplier might be the source.  "They probably distribute all over the country," he said.  Dutch's Meats is a grinding plant and E. coli does not originate in grinding plants; however, because E. coli generates from within cattle intestines it can contaminate meat through improper butchering and processing.

Michigan investigators are looking into a possible link to the Dutch's recall, said James McCurtis, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Community Health.  "We're still investigating and hope to have a source next week," McCurtis said.  "We're confident that it is ground beef."

Escherichia coli is a relatively common bacteria found in the human digestive tract and, while normally harmless, some strains—such as those linked to food poisoning—are serious and can cause fatal blood poisoning, cystitis, and deadly septicemia.  Because many infected with the bacteria experience less severe symptoms, many cases are never reported.  In the US, E. coli is the leading cause of food-borne illness and about 73,000 people are infected and 61 people die from E. coli annually; last year, over 22 million pounds of beef and vegetables were recalled due to E. coli outbreaks.  The problem is difficult to police because the food-surveillance system is outdated, under-funded, and overwhelmed by the emergence of mega-farms, -distribution centers, and -transporters.  Scientists have expressed concern that infections from antibiotic resistant E. coli bacteria are now spreading and several countries are reporting cases.  Worse, emerging data confirms the negative health effects of E. coli can remain for months and years; can have long-term, lasting effects; and can appear months or years after the original illness.


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