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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

CDC Reports on California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont Outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 Infections Associated with Beef from Fairbank Farms

State health departments, CDC, and the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA-FSIS) are investigating a multi-state outbreak of Escherichia coli O157:H7 infections. On October 31, 2009, FSIS issued a notice about a recall of approximately 545,699 pounds of ground 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. A number of the illnesses appear to be associated with products subject to these recalls. Two samples from opened packages of ground beef recovered from a patient’s homes were tested by the Massachusetts and Connecticut Departments of Health and yielded an E. coli O157:H7 isolates that matched the patient isolates by DNA analysis.

The cluster includes 26 persons from 8 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 (6), Massachusetts (8), Maryland (1), Maine (4), New Hampshire (4), New York (1), and Vermont (1). Of these, the genetic associations of 24 human isolates and both of the product isolates 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.

The first reported illness began on September 17, 2009, and the last began on November 6, 2009. Nineteen patients are reported to have been hospitalized and 5 developed a type of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). Two deaths have been reported. Fifty percent of patients are male and 38% are less than 18 years old (range 1 to 88 years).

Most of the beef packages in the recall bear the establishment number "Est. 492" inside the USDA mark of inspection and have identifying package dates of "091409", "091509" or "091609". Consumers are urged to check their refrigerators and freezers for beef products produced by this firm and purchased on or after September 15, 2009 and discard or return the recalled beef products to the place of purchase for a refund. Customers with questions about the source of a package of beef should contact the place where they purchased it (e.g., grocery store, club store, or meat market).