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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Sarpy County Nebraska E. coli Roast Beef Outbreak Sickens 14

Outbreak supports the rationale for expanding E. coli O157:H7 as an adulterant on all meats, including those formerly considered “intact.”

According to Nebraska State health officials, an E. coli outbreak in Sarpy County has sickened 14 people — including a 7-year-old — and sent four people to the hospital. The E. coli outbreak was caused by roast beef served at a reception hall in Sarpy County for a private gathering on March 26. The people affected ranged in age from 7 to 73.  It appears that the “mystery ingredient,” in addition to E. coli O157:H7 were cloves that broke the surface of the roast beef prior to cooking, probably inserting the E. coli bacterium into the meat where cooking was not sufficient to kill the bacteria.

Two weeks ago I attended an FSIS conference where FSIS officials explained the E. coli adulterant rationale on intact meat.  Currently, intact product distributed for consumption as intact product – designated primal and sub-primal cuts such as roasts and steaks – is not considered adulterated if it is contaminated with E. coli.

The USDA’s proposal to consider E coli O157:H7 an adulterant in primal cuts of beef – those that are intact and thought to have a sterile interior – officials said they were concerned about cross-contamination during meat preparation. Daniel Engeljohn, deputy assistant in the FSIS Office of Policy and Program development, said some primal cuts are being made into ground beef, and some of them may not have received an antimicrobial treatment that is typically applied to boneless trim.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated in 1999 that 73,000 cases of E. coli O157:H7 occur each year in the United States. Approximately 2,000 people are hospitalized, and 60 people die as a direct result of E. coli O157:H7 infections and complications. The majority of infections are thought to be foodborne-related, although E. coli O157:H7 accounts for less than 1% of all foodborne illness. We have been involved in representing families who have suffered from this bacterium.

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