As I said in a press release today:

An outbreak of the highly toxic strain of E. coli O157:H7 in the Boston area appears to be part of a multi-state outbreak that has sickened more than 50 people in seven states. The E. coli in the six confirmed illnesses in Boston has the same genetic fingerprint as the illnesses in Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, Indiana, New York, Georgia, and Utah. Those illnesses have been traced to contaminated beef from Nebraska Beef, Ltd. of Omaha.

“This outbreak has put people into Intensive Care Units,” said food safety advocate and attorney William Marler.  “The meat inspection system has somehow come completely off the rails, with more than 40 million tons of contaminated beef recalled in just the last year and a half. As scary as that number is, what’s even scarier is that only a tiny percentage of that recalled meat is actually recovered, and people are still getting sick. Outrage isn’t enough—we need reform, and we need it immediately.”The Massachusetts Department of Public Health is investigating six cases of E. coli O157:H7 in Massachusetts residents that appear to be caused by the same strain of the bacteria found in patients from several other states.

A source of contamination has not been identified; however the cluster of illnesses may be linked to the consumption of beef products. State health officials, along with investigators from USDA, worked through the weekend to try and identify a possible source of contamination. The investigation is focused on ground beef, and testing of samples collected from several stores will be conducted this week.  Based on the preliminary findings, DPH is reminding the public to consume only fully cooked ground beef.

The Massachusetts cases range in age from three to 60 years. They include residents of Middlesex, Suffolk and Essex counties. They reported becoming ill between July 10th and 16th. At least five of the cases were hospitalized. These cases may be linked to 20 other cases in several states and Quebec that were caused by the same strain of E. coli.

The Massachusetts cases were linked by DNA testing and by comparing those results to results from others around the country through a federal foodborne illness surveillance program called PulseNet.