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Stolen E. Coli Tainted Beef Has Dallas Health Officials Scrambling

Jan 9, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

Someone in Dallas is trying to fence ground beef that could be tainted with E. coli.  According to a report on the E. coli Blog, a suspicious individual has been approaching businesses looking to sell ground beef.  Although most of the eight businesses approached so far have been restaurants, one barbershop in northeast Dallas, Texas was solicited,  says the Texas health department division manager.  The Dallas Business Journal reported that the health department is contacting businesses and inspecting restaurants in the North Dallas area.  It was during their review of 80 area businesses that the Dallas Health Department discovered the scam.   The danger with this scam is that the beef in question may be related to the beef at the center of a public health alert issued by U.S. regulators last month for about 14,800 pounds—671 kilos—of missing ground beef products that may be contaminated with the potentially deadly E. coli bacteria.  The alert came after a refrigerated trailer containing ground beef was reported stolen by Texas American Food Service Corporation.  When recovered on December 27th in Dallas—near the junction of Lake June Road and US. 175—the majority of the trailer’s contents were gone.

A portion of the beef was set aside because the company thought it may have been tainted with E. coli.  The Fort Worth, Texas firms conducts business as American Fresh Foods, a privately held meat producer.  American Fresh Foods is working with the USDA and local and state police and warned consumers not to buy its ground beef from questionable vendors.  The USDA's public health alert covers ground beef products packaged for consumer use carrying the establishment number "EST. 13116" on the package labels.  Bulk products carry labels bearing the establishment number "EST. 13116."  The ground beef was produced on December 19th. There were more than 52 meat recalls in 2007.

E. coli 0157:H7—Escherichia coli 0157:H7—is one of hundreds of E. coli strains, the vast majority of which are harmless.  Strain 0157:H7 is quite virulent and produces a powerful toxin that can cause severe illness and even death and is the leading cause of food and waterborne illness in the United States.  According to Center of Disease Control (CDC) estimates, there are over 70,000 cases of infection and 61 deaths occurring in the U.S. annually with most illness linked to undercooked or contaminated meat.  Although E. coli is routinely found on cattle farms and in the intestines of healthy livestock, outbreaks only occur when meat becomes tainted during slaughter, the bacteria contaminates the grounding process, and tainted meat is released and consumed by the public.  Symptoms of E. coli 0157:H7 illness include potentially severe stomach cramps, diarrhea and dehydration.  Children, the elderly and people with poor immune systems are most vulnerable.

The Dallas and U.S Department of Agriculture are stepping up site visits and restaurant inspectors are also distributing flyers concerning the possibility that meat tainted with the deadly E. coli strain is part of black market meat scam.


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