E. Coli Outbreak on Long Island Linked to Undercooked MeatJul 26, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP
E. coli has sickened seven people on eastern Long Island, and health officials there are warning consumers to take extra precautions when they prepare hamburger meat.
E. coli is a common bacteria found in the intestines of both humans and animals. However, several strains of the bacteria can cause serious illness. E. coli is characterized by bloody diarrhea, and if not treated promptly, can lead to kidney failure or death. The illness is one of the most common problems plaguing the US food supply. This year, E. coli contamination involving more than 6 million pounds of beef has been responsible for eight separate food recalls. Beef manufactured by United Food Group has accounted for 5 million pounds of the meat recall, while Tyson Fresh Meat, Inc. was forced to recall 40,000 pounds of its products for E. coli contamination. Other outbreaks have been linked to fresh lettuce and spinach.
The Suffolk County Department of Health Services said that all seven victims are recovering now. One of the hardest hit was an 8-year-old North Carolina girl whose kidneys shut down. All of the victims in this outbreak became ill between June 9th and July 3rd. Health officials suspect that undercooked ground beef was the culprit. Such food is one of the main vehicles for E. coli transmission, although it can also be passed through other contaminated foods and water. Person-to-person transmission is also possible if someone does not wash their hands after using the toilet.
The health department believes that these victims contracted E. coli at home barbecues, and not at local restaurants. Though the health department has not linked the disease to any specific brand of hamburger meat, the department is warning consumers to thoroughly cook ground beef before it is served. Ground meat must be heated to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit to kill E. coli bacteria. Consumers should wash their hands frequently when handling raw meat. Also they should never use utensils previously used on raw meat for other food items without washing them first in hot, soapy water.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is investigating the outbreak. So far it has identified three different E. coli strains. Two of the Long Island cases match strains related to outbreaks in Minnesota and California, while a second strain matches E. coli found in Michigan. A third strain of the bacteria has not been seen in the US before.