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E. coli's trail ends in Merced

Little Leaguers sickened; Richwood Meat recalls 100,000 pounds of beef

Apr 21, 2007 | Sacramento Bee
E. Coli

More than 100,000 Pounds of Frozen Ground Beef Patties Processed by a Merced Company were Recalled

More than 100,000 pounds of frozen ground beef patties processed by a Merced company were recalled after three Little League teammates fell ill with E. coli from tainted hamburgers, officials said.

Richwood Meat Co. issued a voluntary recall of the year-old frozen beef, which was produced in late April and early May 2006. The Merced plant distributes meat in California, Arizona, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

"If you went to the grocery store and bought hamburger meat and threw it in your freezer, it could still be in there. That is the purpose of getting this information out there. As we have seen, people have eaten this meat in the last month," said Michael Bowman, spokesman for the state Department of Health Services.

The frozen patties were sent to food distributors, discount grocers, institutional food services and some retail grocery stores, including WinCo and Vons.

Steve Wood, vice president of Richwood Meat, said that he doubts much of the beef in question is still around.

"The product is over a year old and 99 percent of the product has been consumed with no complaints," Wood said. "We voluntarily recalled the product just to be safe. We don't want anybody becoming ill or having issues."

An investigation was launched after three children became sick in Napa County on April 3, said Theresa Richmond, spokeswoman for the Napa County Health and Human Services Agency.

Snack vendor sold burgers

The children, members of the same L

ittle League team, ate hamburgers from a snack vendor at a baseball game, Richmond said.

A doctor found E. coli in the stool sample of one of the children, a 9-year-old boy, after he became sick with cramps and diarrhea.

"At that point, we did an investigation and found out that other children became ill as well," Richmond said.

The meat was confiscated from the baseball snack vendor and traced to Salami Lady Cash & Carry specialty market in Napa County, Richmond said.

The investigation was handed over to the state Department of Health Services, which linked the tainted beef to Richwood Meat in Merced.

Two Cases of E. Coli with Connections to the Baseball Game Vendor have been Identified

The children have recovered, Richmond said. Two other probable cases of E. coli with connections to the baseball game vendor have been identified, she said.

E. coli infection often causes abdominal cramps and diarrhea that is sometimes bloody. Sufferers usually don't run a fever, and the illness typically abates in five to 10days. It can lead to kidney failure.

Richmond said people should check meat in their freezer to make sure it is not on the recall list.

"If anybody has it, they absolutely cannot eat it, no matter how it was cooked," Richmond said. "The presence of that bacteria has been tested and confirmed. It could be harmful, especially to children, elderly or people with immune deficiencies."

Richwood Meat is not a slaughterhouse; it processes meat that comes from several suppliers, Wood said.

The meat that arrives at the facility must have a certificate of analysis from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, he said.

Richwood grinds the meat into hamburger, and it is sold fresh or frozen in patties, Wood said.

The meat goes to several distributors, but Wood couldn't say where the beef went after it reached distributors. Some is delivered to grocery stores or restaurants, he said, adding that the company has a USDA inspector at the plant full time.

The state identified WinCo and Vons as two of the stores known to carry the frozen patties. WinCo has 22 stores in California, including in Modesto and Stockton.

A supervisor at WinCo in Modesto on Friday said he could not comment on the recall, or say if the store carries the products.

While there are no Vons grocery stores in the Northern San Joaquin Valley, the chain is owned by Pleasanton-based Safeway Inc.

A head clerk at Safeway in Modesto said the company has a system, including e-mails and phone call alerts, if there are products that need to be recalled. The Modesto Safeway store has not received a notification, he said.

It is not the first time that beef from the Richwood plant has come into question. In 2004, Richwood recalled 90,000 pounds of frozen ground beef patties that may have been contaminated with E. coli.

The meat was distributed to U.S. military installations overseas and in California, Washington, Oregon and Idaho. The recall was prompted after a laboratory in Japan found traces of E. coli, after reports of several illnesses in Japan.

Need Legal Help Regarding E. Coli's Trail Ends in Merced

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