Beef recall expands to 5.3 million pounds

July 3, 2008 5:12:11 PM PDT
Nebraska Beef Ltd. is expanding a recall announced earlier this week to include all 5.3 million pounds of meat it produced for ground beef between May 16 and June 26. Federal investigators have linked Nebraska Beef's products to an outbreak of E. coli illnesses affecting 41 people in Michigan and Ohio.

The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service said in a statement Thursday that it concluded Nebraska Beef's production practices were insufficient to effectively control E. coli bacteria.

"The products subject to recall may have been produced under insanitary conditions," the government said.

All the beef being recalled was sold to wholesalers and distributors for further processing so consumer labels likely will not include the "EST 19336" code that identifies Nebraska Beef.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that E. coli sickens about 73,000 people and kills 61 each year in the United States. Most of those who die have weak immune systems, such as the elderly or very young.

Nebraska Beef spokesman Bill Lamson did not respond to a message left Thursday afternoon.

USDA spokesman Roger Sockman said investigators traced the meat back to Nebraska Beef after finding two samples of beef that tested positive for E. coli at processing plants that bought meat from Nebraska Beef.

Sockman said investigators then visited Nebraska Beef's plant and found "unacceptable high levels of E. coli." Sockman said he did not know any other details.

Some Nebraska Beef products were sold by grocer Kroger Co. Kroger has recalled ground beef products in more than 20 states because the meat may have been contaminated.

At least two lawsuits tied to this E. coli outbreak already have been filed against Nebraska Beef and Kroger.

Attorney Fred Pritzker filed one of the lawsuits on behalf of a 20-year-old Ohio man who became ill with E. coli after eating ground beef from a Kroger store.

On Monday, Nebraska Beef announced plans to recall 531,707 pounds of beef trim produced on five different dates between May 16 and June 24.

Now the recall includes all beef trimmings and other products intended for use in ground beef the company produced between May 16 and June 26.

But Sockman said the recall does not include any of the other products produced at the plant.

The company said Monday that beef involved in the original recall went to businesses in Nebraska, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas.

Thursday's release did not specify whether the 5.3 million pounds now being recalled went to any additional states.

The company's Omaha plant typically slaughters about 1,000 head of cattle per day.

Cooking ground beef to an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees should kill E. coli bacteria, if they are present. The USDA recommends that consumers use a meat thermometer while cooking to verify they have cooked meat thoroughly.

Twenty-two people have been hospitalized since the first case of E. coli linked to the beef was identified May 30, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One person has developed a type of kidney failure called hemolytic-uremic syndrome.

The E. coli 0157:H7 variant can cause severe illness and even death in humans. Symptoms of E. coli infection include stomach cramps and diarrhea that may turn bloody within one to three days.

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On the Net:

USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service: www.fsis.usda.gov

U.S. Centers for Disease Control E. coli site: http://cdc.gov/ecoli

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