E. coli Tainted Beef Served In Restaurants Sickens 21Dec 31, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP
Earlier this week we wrote that an E. coli outbreak prompted the recall of 248,000 pounds of beef products produced by National Steak and Poultry, of Owasso, Oklahoma. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS) said the recalled beef may be tainted with E. coli O157:H7 and has been associated with a cluster of illnesses in Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, South Dakota, and Washington.
Now, the Washington Post is reporting that 21 people in 16 states have been infected with the dangerous, sometimes deadly E. coli O157:H7 after eating beef supplied by the same meat company, citing federal officials. Recalled products include steaks and sirloin tips, said the Washington Post, noting that the potentially contaminated beef was sent nationwide to restaurants, hotels, and institutions.
The FSIS currently has a partial list of those eating establishments that received the recalled meat and that list includes two chains located in the West and Midwest—Moe's and Carino's Italian Grill—reported the Washington Post. Also, the FSIS has classified this recall as a Class I, meaning that the risk of serious illness is high.
Of the 21 sickened, nine have been hospitalized, the USDA has said, according to the Washington Post, which said that nine of the 21 sickened have been hospitalized. According to the agency, the E. coli contamination likely originated with tainted beef used for chopped steak that mixed with other meat products at the plant, reported the Washington Post.
Although considered a small outbreak by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the agency considers the outbreak to be noteworthy because this is the fourth pathogen outbreak linked to “mechanically tenderized beef” in the past nine years, said the Washington Post. The process of mechanical tenderization involves softening tough beef cuts “by hammering … meat with metal needles or blades that break up muscle fibers and connective tissue,” a process called “needling,” explained the Washington Post.
Needling is typically employed to further tenderize meat cooked at plants prior to being shipped to restaurants, an issue for consumer advocates who feel this process brings pathogens from the outside to the interior of the meat, a health concern when serving rare meat that is not cooked to sufficient internal temperatures to kill off pathogens, said the Washington Post.
"The USDA has been looking at this for a long time. . . . People have proposed ways to address it and nothing was done about it in the Clinton administration, the Bush administration and, now, the Obama administration…. This is something that's been coming along. It's not an overnight problem," said Carol L. Tucker-Foreman of Consumer Federation of America, part of a coalition that wrote to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in June about needled meat, quoted the Washington Post.
E. coli O157:H7 is a potentially deadly bacterium that can cause bloody diarrhea, dehydration, and in the most severe cases, kidney failure. The very young, seniors, and persons with weak immune systems are the most susceptible to food borne illness.