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Pa. health officials probe five E. coli cases

Apr 22, 2007 | AP

The state health department is investigating an E. coli outbreak that has sickened five people in four Pennsylvania counties, officials said Friday.

Health officials believe all the cases are linked to people who ate rare or medium-rare steak at different Hoss's Steak and Sea House restaurants in Centre, Dauphin, Venango and York counties from March 24 to March 29.

Four of the five people had been hospitalized but none developed kidney failure, the Health Department said.

The restaurant exposures are the only common link among the people who were sickened, the department said. All five people ate different cuts of steak but all requested they be cooked rare or medium-rare, health officials said.

Health Secretary Dr. Calvin B. Johnson said Pennsylvania health officials were working with the state and federal agriculture departments to identify the source of the E. coli cases.

“We will continue to work with our partners to identify cases in Pennsylvania and, we hope, prevent any additional illnesses,” Johnson said in a statement.

Hoss's Steak and Sea House is a privately owned company that operates 41 restaurants in Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia, according to the company's Web site.

HFX Corp., Hoss's affiliated meat processing facility based in Claysburg, said it was voluntarily recalling 259,230 pounds of beef as a precaution. Besides supplying meat for its Hoss's restaurants, HFX also processes beef for other restaurants and wholesalers.

About 4,900 pounds of the beef being recalled were distributed to retail stores in Pennsylvania; the rest went to restaurants in Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department.

“As soon as we learned of the positive test, we immediately began recalling the affected products and are well on our way to seeing that all of it is removed from the consumer pipeline,” HFX president John H. Brown said in a statement. “For example, all beef being recalled has already been removed from our Hoss's Steak and Sea House restaurants.”

HFX said it is reviewing its food safety programs and has stopped three specific meat tenderizing techniques, because though they “are widely used in the meat processing industry, we felt that they contain some level of risk,” Brown said.

E. coli, or Escherichia coli, is a common and ordinarily harmless bacteria, but certain strains can cause abdominal cramps, fever, bloody diarrhea, kidney failure, blindness, paralysis and sometimes death.

E. coli is found in the feces of humans and livestock. Most, but not all, E. coli infections are associated with undercooked meat; an outbreak linked to fresh spinach last fall killed three people and sickened more than 200 others.


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