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E. coli Outbreak Spread to Five States, Including NY

Jul 16, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

Health officials investigating the E. coli outbreak that started in Ohio and Michigan have now added New York, Kentucky, and Indiana to the roster of states reporting victims.  Each new state has one lab-confirmed case of the E. coli strain that matches the 41 earlier cases, according to an Associated Press report and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  All 44 cases are of the same type of E. coli—E. coli O157:H7— the most virulent and deadly E. coli strain.  According to CDC investigator Mark Sotir and the AP report, the patient from Kentucky lives near Ohio; however, New York and Indiana patients did not travel to the states in which the outbreak originated.

The growing, multi-state outbreak has been traced to beef processed by Nebraska Beef and sold in Kroger Grocery stores in Michigan and Ohio.  Last month, Kroger recalled ground beef sold in those two states and later expanded its recall to include other states; in total, about 5.3 million pounds of beef was recalled.  Reports in central Ohio began emerging in mid-June that residents were falling ill from E. coli.  Meanwhile, on June 9, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) told Nebraska Beef executives that samples of Nebraska Beef were among those from a group of processing companies whose meat tested positive for E. coli.  Ohio had test results confirming E. coli-contaminated meat on June 23; however, two days passed before that information was publicly released and Kroger Grocery issued a recall.

Departments of health and agriculture in several states are collaborating with local health jurisdictions, the CDC, and the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA-FSIS).  The outbreak looks like this:  Illness emerged May 30-June 24.  States report one lab-confirmed illness each in Indiana, Kentucky, and New York; 20 in Michigan; and 21 in Ohio.  Women account for 25—or 57 percent—of the patients and patients range in age from four to 78 years and have a median age of 20.

Kroger volunteered information its products were tainted; however, no other retailers publicly linked themselves to Nebraska Beef, a Kroger supplier.  Kroger issued its recall on June 25, but it took Nebraska Beef five days to issue its first recall of 532,000 pounds of meat sent to companies in seven states.  Over one week later, on July 3, Nebraska Beef issued a recall for 5.3 million pounds of its meat.

With the announcement of the expanded recall, the USDA reported Nebraska Beef's production practices were insufficient to protect meat from contamination, products might have been produced in unsanitary conditions, and it was lax in its response that its meat might be contaminated.  Nebraska Beef has been involved in other issues where questionable practices and food contamination were found to have occurred.  In 2003, the USDA went to court to try to shut down Nebraska Beef’s Omaha packing plant after citing it for numerous violations.  Three years later, Minnesota public health and USDA officials linked an E. coli 0157:H7 outbreak in ground beef that killed a Minnesota woman to Nebraska Beef.


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