In a news release from 12 August 2011, the United States Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), noted that the aforementioned company is recalling approximately 60,424 pounds of ground beef products that may be adulterated with Escherichia coli strain O157:H7.
The ground beef products have been sold nationwide, but largely in the southern portion of the United States. So far, the only stores believed to have distributed the beef are Sam's Club, Publix, Winn Dixie, Kroger, and Walmart, but stay tuned to media for further updates. The Sam's Club stores affected, however, include the states of Virginia, Missouri, Iowa, Indiana, Kansas, and Michigan; for Walmart, the stores include Nebraska and Colorado. View the complete list of affected stores and their associated states on the USDA's pdf here.
Unfortunately, they also "may have been repackaged into consumer-size packages and sold under different retail brand names."
So, how do you suss out the skinny on your beef products?
The scoop on the affected products
Following is the FSIS itemization of the affected products:
1. Ground beef chubs produced on July 23, 2011 with a Freeze by Date of August 12, 2011:
• Boxes containing six 10-pound chubs of “National Beef 80/20 Fine Ground Chuck.” These can be identified by the product code 483.
• Boxes containing eight 5-pound chubs of “National Beef 80/20 Fine Ground Chuck.” These can be identified by the product code 684.
• Boxes containing twelve 3-pound chubs of “National Beef 80/20 Fine Ground Chuck.” These can be identified by the product code 782 or 785.
• Boxes containing six 10-pound chubs of “National Beef 80/20 Fine Ground Chuck.” These can be identified by the product code 787.
Each box and chub bears the establishment number “Est. 262” within the USDA mark of inspection.
2. Ground beef chubs produced on July 25, 2011 with a Freeze by Date of August 14, 2011:
• Boxes containing eight 10-pound chubs of “National Beef 81/19 Fine Ground Beef.” These can be identified by the product code 431.
• Boxes containing eight 10-pound chubs of “National Beef 90/10 Fine Ground Beef.” These can be identified by the product code 471.
• Boxes containing six 10-pound chubs of “National Beef 86/14 Fine Ground Round.” These can be identified by the product code 494.
Now what the heck is E. coli, and why should I care about this recall?
If you're a vegetarian or vegan, you have no cause for alarm. But if you're like other Americans, you might eat beef either at home, during visits with friends or family, or while in a restaurant.
E. coli is found within the healthy intestines of all animals, humans included. Like a sort of bacterial weedeater, they keep harmful intestinal flora at bay.
Todar's Online Textbook of Bacteriology: Bacterial Pathogens of Humans).
NOTE: This paragraph is not for the super-squeamish. The aptly named Bad Bug Book tips us off to the blood-based background of enterohemorrhagic infection such as that with E. coli serotype O157:H7, which is thankfully uncommon. It educates us that "E. coli serotype O157:H7 is a rare variety of E. coli that produces large quantities of one or more related, potent toxins that cause severe damage to the lining of the intestine. These toxins [verotoxin (VT), shiga-like toxin] are closely related or identical to the toxin produced by Shigella dysenteriae [essentially, dysentery]. ... The illness is characterized by severe cramping (abdominal pain) and diarrhea which is initially watery but becomes grossly bloody."
Needless to say, if you suspect E. coli contamination--or that of any other foodborne bacterium--get thee to a physician. Quickly.
Time is especially of the essence if you or the other afflicted person is elderly, immunocompromised (as with AIDS, cancer, and so on), or young.
That is to say, it's not for no reason that the FSIS has classified this as a Class I (high health risk) recall, meaning "This is a health hazard situation where there is a reasonable probability that the use of the product will cause serious, adverse health consequences or death."
Sadly, all in the name of and quest for a great burger.
Where can I get more information?
The FSIS tells us that shoppers and reporters with questions about the recall should contact the company’s Vice President of Marketing, Keith Welty, at (816) 713-8631.
A few final words on food-safety and preparation
In the meantime, please check your shopping carts and refrigerators for ground beef chubs. Note also that each box and chub is marked with the establishment number “Est. 262” within the USDA mark of inspection.
The FSIS advice also includes the following (and more at the initial press release link):
"Color is NOT a reliable indicator that ground beef or ground beef patties have been cooked to a temperature high enough to kill harmful bacteria such as E. coli O157:H7.
The only way to be sure ground beef is cooked to a high-enough temperature [a temperature of 160° F or above] to kill harmful bacteria is to use a thermometer to measure the internal temperature."
In short, the food-safety mantra of "clean, separate, cook, and chill" should be on every home cook's lips (Partnership for Food Safety Education), for an ounce of prevention can easily be worth a pound of cure with regard to food storage and handling safety. After all, who wants to be so sickened by food mishandled at home, which is preventable, that they have to go to the hospital or, worse still, have to take their child?
Even given the high cost of beef to the struggling American middle-income and lesser-income families today, I wanted to share this story with you. I'd like to say that I hope you find it useful, but then that might mean that you or yours is sickened by this foodborne illness. So I'll instead wish that you find it intellectually fascinating but have no direct experience with it.
WebMD, Escherichia coli: Infection Overview
Walmart stores, press release on recall
Photo captions: Ground beef photo courtesy of Wikipedia. Escherichia coli image is a scanning electron micrograph courtesy of Rocky Mountain Laboratories, NIAID, NIH.