As many as 60 people are now thought to be ill from infection by E. coli O145 in New York, Michigan, and Ohio. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), along with local and state health and agriculture departments from the involved states, are investigating the outbreak to determine what specific food item caused all the illnesses. Fortunately, the exposure period–i.e. time during which the contaminated food item is still being served–for the E. coli O145 outbreak appears to be over.
Misti Crane, reporter with the Columbus Dispatch, wrote this morning about the broader food safety issues raised, yet again, by the current E. coli O145 outbreak, including specifically the current petitions to USDA-FSIS to declare non-O157 strains of E. coli as "adulterants" in our meat supply:
the USDA is considering requests that it increase safety – particularly of ground beef – by requiring consumer protection against more than one type of E. coli. As it is now, department regulations consider E. coli 0157 to be a contaminant.
Seattle lawyer and food-safety advocate Bill Marler has been leading the charge to include other forms of E. coli that also have the power to sicken and, in some cases, kill.
Marler has been paying for tests of ground beef samples in six states (he won’t say which ones) and after 4,700 tests, has found non-0157 forms of E. coli in about 2 percent of the samples, he said. He’s testing 300 more before generating a more-detailed report on his findings.
"If you look at that from a broad perspective, it’s a big deal. It’s a huge deal, and it may account for a lot of illness that nobody’s tracking."
Marler said he understands the pressure on industry as government looks at increasing regulations. Consumers might have to be willing to give a little to make food safer, too, he said.
"A nickel more a pound for hamburger would probably solve this problem," he said.