The unfortunate trend for E. coli and beef in late 2009 and 2010 continues.  This evening, West MissourI Beef, LLC, a Rockville, Missouri beef company, recalled 14,000 pounds of boneless beef products due to potential E. coli O157:H7 contamination.  Today’s recall brings the tally for recalled beef due to E. coli contamination to 1,636,000 pounds of beef products in the last three months. 

On January 18, 2010, the USDA’s food inspection branch (FSIS) announced the recall of 846,000 pounds of ground beef products produced by a California company called Huntington Meat Packing, Inc., due to potential contamination by E. coli O157:H7.

On January 11, 2010, Adams Farm Slaughterhouse, LLC., an Athol, Mass., stablishment, recalled approximately 2,574 pounds of beef products due to potential E. coli O157:H7 contamination. The recall occurred in the wake of an epidemiological investigation into the E. coli illness of at least one Massachusetts resident.

In November 2009, ground beef from a New York ground beef company called Fairbank Farms was recalled due to E. coli O157:H7 contamination. That outbreak caused resulted in 26 E. coli O157:H7 illnesses, nineteen hospitalizations, and five who developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).

And on Christmas Eve 2009, National Steak and Poultry recalled at least 124 tons of mechanically tenderized beef products. The National Steak and Poultry outbreak caused at least 21 E. coli O157:H7 illness in 16 states, including nine hospitalizations and one case of HUS.

Together, the recalls and outbreaks linked to beef from Adams Farm, National Steak and Poultry, Fairbank Farms, and now West Missouri Beef have caused at least 48 illnesses nationally. At least 1,636,000 pounds of beef have been recalled in total in the five recalls. .
 

Counting Friday’s sausage recall by Daniele International, Inc., food companies have recalled at least 2,880,000 pounds of meat products since November 2009 due to contamination by E. coli or Salmonella. 

Friday’s recall:  (from FSIS press release)

Daniele International Inc., an establishment with operations in Pascoag and Mapleville, R.I., is recalling approximately 1,240,000 pounds of ready-to-eat (RTE) varieties of Italian sausage products, including salami/salame, in commerce and potentially available to customers in retail locations because they may be contaminated with Salmonella, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced today.

The Daniele Inc. sausage outbreak, due to contamination by Salmonella Montevideo, has caused at least 184 illnesses in residents of 38 states. 

On January 18, 2010, the USDA’s food inspection branch (FSIS) announced the recall of 846,000 pounds of ground beef products produced by a California company called Huntington Meat Packing, Inc., due to potential contamination by E. coli O157:H7.

On January 11, 2010, Adams Farm Slaughterhouse, LLC., an Athol, Mass., establishment, recalled approximately 2,574 pounds of beef products that was potentially contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.  The beef was the cause of infection in at least one Massachusetts resident. 

On December 24, 2009 (The Christmas Eve sneak), an Oklahoma company called National Steak and Poultry recalled 248,000 pounds of tenderized beef products due to contamination by E. coli O157:H7.  The outbreak is known to have sickened at least 21 people in 16 states.  Last week, Marler Clark filed the first lawsuit arising from the outbreak on behalf of a Utah resident.

And in November 2009, A New York company called Fairbank Farms recalled 545,699 pounds of ground beef due to E. coli O157:H7 contamination. The outbreak caused resulted in 26 E. coli O157:H7 illnesses, nineteen hospitalizations, and five who developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). 

 

 

 Today’s announcement by USDA-FSIS of another beef recall due to E. coli O157:H7 contamination bodes poorly for this new year.  Adams Farm Slaughterhouse, LLC., an Athol, Mass., establishment, is recalling approximately 2,574 pounds of beef products that may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.  The recall occurs in the wake of an epidemiological investigation into the E. coli illness of at least one Massachusetts resident.  The recall also marks the third beef recall in the last three months due to E. coli O157:H7 contamination.

In November 2009, ground beef from a New York ground beef company called Fairbank Farms was recalled due to E. coli O157:H7 contamination. That outbreak caused resulted in 26 E. coli O157:H7 illnesses, nineteen hospitalizations, and five who developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).   

And on Christmas Eve 2009, National Steak and Poultry recalled at least 124 tons of mechanically tenderized beef products.  The National Steak and Poultry outbreak caused at least 21 E. coli O157:H7 illness in 16 states, including nine hospitalizations and one case of HUS.   

Together, the recalls and outbreaks linked to beef from Adams Farm, National Steak and Poultry, and Fairbank Farms, has caused at least 48 illnesses in nationally.  At least 776,000 pounds of beef have been recalled in total in the three outbreaks.  

Fairbank Farms recently recalled over 500,000 pounds of ground beef due to contamination with E. coli O157:H7.   The contaminated beef led to 25 illnesses, including two deaths, in 10 states.  In light of this Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D. Conn) is calling for an investigation into the method of sampling ground beef for the deadly bacteria currently approved by the USDA. 

The sampling method, referred to as N-60, dictates what proportion of ground beef is sampled in a company’s E. coli O157:H7 testing program.  According to Agriculture Online, Rep DeLauo says:  "I am troubled by the shortcomings of the N-60 test … and that is why I am requesting an investigation into the scientific merits of this beef-testing protocol."    DeLauro says that even though  Fairbank Farms "samples product every 10 to 20 minutes to check for contamination … it was not enough to prevent contamination."

The meat industry defended its practice to Agriculture Online:

James Hodges, executive vice president of the American Meat Institute, said the AMI doesn’t oppose an investigation, but he stressed the testing method is sound. He called the testing method "a scientifically recognized statistical sampling method that is widely used in the industry to test for the presence of pathogens in meat products."

The CDC again amended its case-count in the Fairbank Farms ground beef E. coli O157:H7 outbreak.  Secondary DNA tests (surely MLVA) have helped the CDC whittle the number of cases down from 28 in 12 states on November 2, to 26 in 11 states on November 3, to 25 in 10 states today.  These changing case-counts got me thinking about an important aspect of every outbreak of foodborne disease:  that the number of "confirmed cases" is rarely, if ever, an accurate count of the number of actual victims in any outbreak situation. 

The reality of these outbreaks (whether E. coli O157, Salmonella, or anything else) is that the number of people who are actually ill, as opposed to the number who have a stool sample that tests positive, is much bigger than the reports would indicate.  In fact, one of the leading studies on the subject suggests that the number of actual victims in a given outbreak, as opposed to merely those with positive stool samples, is as much as 38 times the number of stool sample confirmed individuals. 

 

Continue Reading Fairbank Farms E. coli O157 Outbreak: how many are really ill?

 The CDC did not provide any updated statistics today about the number of people sickened in the ongoing E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks linked to ground beef (still 26 illness in 11 states, with 2 deaths and 3 HUS), but the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) did update the list of retail stores who may have received contaminated ground beef.  The list is long and comprehensive and, to me at least, suggests that the number of people who may be involved in at least the Fairbank Farms outbreak may continue to grow.  See the FSIS update here.

 Here is the short version:  

Shaws in Connecticut, Maine, Massachussetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Vermont

Price Chopper in Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont

Acme in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania

Giant in Pennsylvania

Pathmark in Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania

Food Lion in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia

Trader Joe in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachussetts, New Jersey, New York, and North Carolina

BJ in New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia

Martins in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia

Great American in New York

IGA in Maine, New York, and Vermont

Surefresh in Delaware, Maryland, and Pennsylvania

Grand Union in Connecticut and New York

A&P in New Jersey and New York

Waldbaum in New York

C&S in Vermont

 The CDC reports today that there are currently only 26 illnesses in 11 states that are linked to the Fairbank Farms E. coli O157:H7 ground beef outbreak and recall.  This represents a reduction in the number of cases attributed to the outbreak by two.  

Here is the outbreak rundown:

On October 31, 2009, FSIS issued a notice about a recall of over 500,000 pounds of beef products from Fairbank Farms that may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7. Health officials in several states who were investigating a cluster of E. coli O157:H7 illnesses, with isolates that match by “DNA fingerprinting” analyses, found that most ill persons had consumed ground beef, with several purchasing the same or similar product from a common retail chain. At least some of the illnesses appear to be associated with products subject to these recalls. A sample from an opened package of ground beef recovered from a patient’s home was tested by the Massachusetts Department of Health and yielded an E. coli O157:H7 isolate that matched the patient isolates by DNA analysis.

The cluster includes 26 persons from 11 states infected with matching strains of E. coli O157:H7. The number of ill persons identified in each state is as follows: California (1), Connecticut (4), Massachusetts (8), Maryland (1), Maine (2), Minnesota (1), New Hampshire (4), New Jersey (1), New York (1), Pennsylvania (2), and Vermont (1). Of these, the genetic association of 13 human isolates and the product isolate have been confirmed by an advanced secondary DNA test; secondary tests are pending on others. Depending on the results of continuing laboratory testing and ongoing case finding, the number of persons determined to be in this cluster may increase or decrease.

Recently, certain sectors have argued that the incidence of E. coli O157:H7, and other shiga-toxin producing strains of E. coli, in ground beef has dropped precipitously, and that our food safety system is, as a result, working very well.  At Marler Clark, over the last several years—in fact, beginning with the infamous Dole baby spinach outbreak in September 2006—fully 90% of the people we have represented have been victims of severe E. coli O157:H7 infections, sometimes resulting in hemolytic uremic syndrome; and aside from approximately 100 spinach victims, 95% of these folks were sickened by contaminated ground beef.  In fact, with the recent, virtually simultaneous recalls of about 546,000 pounds of ground beef by South Shore Meats and Fairbank Farms, 45,000,000 pounds of ground beef have been recalled in the last two years.  These statistics sure don’t jibe well with any optimism about our food safety system, as a whole, or ground beef more specifically. 

As recently as the beginning of 2007, the beef industry touted that the incidence of E. coli O157 in meat had plummeted since the 1990s, dropping nearly 80%. The rate of actual illnesses in people, it was said, was also way down. It appeared, by both statistics and the profiles of our clients at Marler Clark, that the meat industry had indeed cleaned up its act—that big beef finally would put Bill Marler’s firm in Seattle out of business.

If the first several years of this millennium showed progress by the beef industry, 2007, 2008, and 2009 are years that it would rather forget. Beef companies recalled over twenty-nine million pounds of meat in 2007. 2008 saw at least sixteen recalls of beef products, totaling at least 2,361,295 pounds of meat. And to date in 2009, beef companies have recalled close to two million pounds of product, if not more. True enough, these are just bare numbers—courtesy of the USDA website—but a simple contrast with the first five or six years of this millennium are illustrative. Progress? Optimism? I don’t see it.

Ultimately, these numbers may serve the opposing perspective directly: more recalls may mean more testing, but it does not necessarily mean more illness. To that, all we can really say is that, well, we’ve sure as heck seen a lot more sick people in the last three years than we did the six previous ones. Indeed, there are more than a few families that I can think of around the country who would be shocked—probably even dismayed—to learn that our “food-safety system is working, even though the number of recalls is rising.”

Let me make a different assessment; perhaps it will be a better platform from which to build a national, and international, food-safety system that’s more in keeping with what consumers expect: no, we are not making good enough progress; and no, I don’t agree that the increased number of food recalls (ground beef in particular) is just because of better testing, and more surveillance within the public health community. Take it for what you will, but we have represented more victims of foodborne disease in the last three years alone that we did in the entirety of this firm’s first decade of existence.

FSIS today released the identities of retail stores that may have received E. coli O157:H7-contaminated ground beef involved in the current recall by Fairbank Farm.  All Shaw’s stores in Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Massachussets, and Vermont may have received contaminated meat; and all Price Chopper stores in Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New York and Vermont may have received contaminated meat.  The CDC now reports that 2 deaths and 26 illnesses may be linked to the Fairbank Farm recall, with the majority of illnesses coming from New England residents.  Fairbank Farm has recalled approximately 546,000 pounds of fresh ground beef.