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Kroger Finally Recalls Meat Linked to E. Coli Outbreak

Jun 26, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

Yesterday we reported that U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed the current Ohio and Michigan E. coli outbreaks were linked and health officials believed ground beef might be the culprit.  Now, the Kroger supermarket chain, which was connected to some of the illnesses, says it is voluntarily recalling ground beef linked to the outbreak.  The recall followed a Michigan health department announcement confirming at least 16 E. coli cases—Ohio reports at least 19—and that over half of those reported buying and eating ground beef from Kroger’s.

Kroger says customers who bought ground beef with sell-by dates of May 31-June 8 at stores in Michigan and the Columbus and Toledo, Ohio areas should return the product for a refund or replacement.  The company says the ground beef in question is no longer being sold.

On Monday, the CDC confirmed that 24 cases—spanning Michigan and Ohio—share the same genetic fingerprint and epidemiology.  There have been at least 14 cases serious enough to require hospitalizations and one patient developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a type of kidney failure.  A wide variety of counties in both states have been impacted.  The CDC became involved when illness commonalities were suspected between states.

We reported yesterday that Kroger spokeswoman Meghan Glynn said that, "We were notified today that E. coli illnesses reported in Michigan and Ohio have been linked to products purchased in some of our stores in those states."  It took several hours following that confirmation for Kroger’s to issue the recall.  Glynn has said that Ohio and Michigan health authorities have not identified the supplier or the specific ground beef that caused the illnesses, but added, “We purchase our ground beef from major suppliers in the industry and we are working with federal, state, and local agencies to identify the supplier."  Michigan officials say beef products are being traced and other outlets and retailers may be identified.

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, like the virulent Escherichia coli 0157:H7 in this outbreak—are extremely 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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