On September 25, 2007, the Topps Meat Company, one of the leading processors of frozen ground beef in the US, recalled over 300,000 pounds of frozen ground beef patties after one of the company’s products was implicated in an outbreak of E. coli poison in New York State that sickened six people. While investigating the New York outbreak, health authorities had discovered a box of Topps frozen ground beef patties in a freezer belonging to one of the victims. Further testing revealed that the patties were infested with E. coli O157:H7, an extremely virulent strain of food borne bacteria.
The initial Topps frozen meat recall involved 331,582 pounds of frozen beef products. It included 10-pound boxes of Butcher’s Best 100 Percent All Beef Patties; 10-pound boxes of Kohler Foods burgers; 10-pound boxes of Sand Castle Fine Meat; two-pound boxes of Topps 100 Percent Pure Ground Beef Hamburgers; and three pound boxes of Topps 100-percent Pure Ground Beef Hamburgers. All of the affected beef patties carried the number “EST 9748” inside the USDA inspection mark and have “Sell By” dates of either June 22, 2008 or July 23, 2008.
Within a few days of the initial recall, a total of 25 people in 8 states had reportedly become ill from the Topps Meat Company E. coli-tainted ground beef. By September 28, cases of E. coli poisoning had been reported in Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Maine, New Jersey, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Five of those victims required hospitalization.
Topps Ground Beef Recall Expanded
Following the first recall, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) quickly began an inspection of the Topps Meat Company processing facility in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Beef grinding operations were suspended after the USDA inspectors found that the company had inadequate controls to prevent bacterial contamination.
On September 29, 2007, the Topps Meat Company expanded the frozen ground beef recall to include another 21 million pounds of frozen ground beef distributed to retail outlets and food service institutions throughout the US. The second phase of the recall was initiated because of the findings of the USDA inspectors. The expanded Topps recall included frozen ground beef products distributed to retail outlets and food service institutions nationwide. Each recalled package was stamped with the establishment number “Est 9748” inside the USDA mark of inspection and “sell-by” dates between Sept. 25, 2007, and Sept. 25, 2008. Label names included Butcher’s Best, Kohler Foods, Mike’s, Pathmark, Rastelli’s, Roma-Topps, Sam’s Choice Backyard Gourmet Beef Burgers, Sand Castle, Shop Rite, Topps and West Side. Consumers were urged to check their freezers for the recalled ground beef, and return it to the store where it was purchased.
E. Coli Food Poisoning
E. coli bacteria occur naturally in the intestinal tracks of most mammals, including humans. However, E. coli O157:H7 is a potentially lethal strain of the bacteria that is found in the intestines of cows, goats and other animals. Sometimes, during the slaughtering process, E. coli O157:H7 can contaminate other parts of the animal. E. coli poisoning is generally associated with consuming undercooked meat; however in recent years, cases of E. coli poisoning have been associated with fresh spinach and other vegetables, as well as tainted meat.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, E. coli O157:H7 sickens an average of 73,000 people each year and kills 61 of them. Symptoms of E. coli poisoning include bloody diarrhea, cramping, fatigue and dehydration. Though most victims of E. coli poisoning will recover within 7-10 days, the illness can be very dangerous for children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems. In extreme cases, E. coli poisoning can lead to kidney failure and even death. People with serious cases of E. coli poisoning often require dialysis treatments and blood transfusions, and can spend weeks or months in hospital intensive care units.
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