On Friday we learned that Rocky Mountain Natural Meats, a Henderson, Colorado meat business, was recalling approximately 66,000 pounds of bison products due to potential contamination by E. coli O157:H7.  The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service became aware of the problem during the course of an on-going investigation into a cluster of E. coli O157:H7 illnesses in Colorado with illness onset dates between June 4, 2010 and June 9, 2010. Working in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the New York Department of Health, 5 cases were been identified in Coloradoand 1 in New York with indistinguishable strains of E. coli. FSIS determined that there is an association between the ground bison products and the cluster of illnesses in the state of Colorado.

Of course, Colorado has seen, or been the source state of, beef E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks before.  In the spring of 2009, a multistate E. coli outbreak was discovered involving ground beef produced by the JBS Swift Company at their Greeley, Colorado location. Most ill persons had consumed ground beef; many reported that it was undercooked. Samples from unopened packages of ground beef recovered from a patient’s home were tested by the Michigan Public Health Laboratory. These yielded E. coli O157:H7 that matched the "DNA fingerprint" of the outbreak strain. Twenty three persons had been infected with the strain that matched by standard DNA testing. The beef was sold in the United States and Mexico. Mexican health officials banned further importation of the meat.

And in 2002, the Colorado Department of Health identified an outbreak of E.coli O157:H7 infections in Colorado residents. The strain of E.coli isolated from these ill persons was subsequently found to match strains of E.coli from other cases in Colorado and other states. The initial epidemiological investigation implicated ground beef purchased at Kroger’s grocery stores. The ground beef was produced by ConAgra Beef Company. On June 30, independent of the outbreak, the ConAgra Beef Company issued a nationwide recall of 354,200 pounds of ground beef produced on May 31. The recall resulted from routine microbiological testing that had been conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The strain of E.coli that had been found in this hamburger matched the strain of E.coli that had been isolated from the ill persons. Subsequent to the detection of this multistate outbreak and the plant inspection, the ground beef recall was expanded nationwide. An additional 18.6 million pounds of fresh and frozen ground beef and beef trimmings were recalled. A report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s inspector general blamed both federal meat inspectors and ConAgra Beef Company for errors contributing to the outbreak. Evidence of E.coli O157:H7 contamination had been ignored since January, 2001, more than a year before this outbreak was detected.

And in 1997, 15 unlucky Coloradans were felled by E. coli O157:H7 after consuming pre-formed, frozen ground beef patties produced by Hudson Foods Company.  Five patients were hospitalized, but none developed hemolytic uremic syndrome or died. Eleven (79%) of 14 patients reported eating frozen pre-formed ground beef patties or burgers at least once during the 7-day period preceding illness onset; eight specifically recalled eating Hudson Foods brand product, and three, who could not recall a specific brand name, identified package labeling consistent with Hudson Foods brand. Hudson Foods beef burgers collected from the freezers of two of the 15 patients bore the identical lot number (156A7); both yielded E. coli O157:H7 when cultured at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Food Safety and Inspection Service Laboratory in Athens, Georgia.