Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Nationwide ground beef recall for Escherichia coli contamination hits Walmart, Sam's Club, Publix, Kroger, Winn Dixie stores

Where's the beef? For your health's sake, I hope it's not in your refrigerator--or, worse yet, in your or your child's gastrointestinal system--if it came from National Beef Packing Co. LLC, of Dodge City, Kansas.

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.

As you will also remember from your basic biology classes, E. coli is a Gram-negative bacterium with a facultative anaerobic metabolism. The basic form of E. coli, which is implicated in urinary and intestinal tract infections and neonatal meningitis, is highly scrutinized in biology, yet strikingly little is known about its ecology--in particular, these questions relate to why it is so commonly associated with humans, its effects on its host, and so on (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.

Additional Reading:

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.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Ten Children Dead So Far This Summer in the Gunited States of America

"A gun kept in the home is 43 times more likely to kill someone known to the family than to kill someone in self-defense." (American Academy of Pediatrics)

I’ve got a bur under my saddle, and I aim to pry it out.

Amigos and compadres, we’re officially living in the Gunited States of America.
And in the G.S.A., the Summer of the Gun has started off with a bang. Several of them, unfortunately.

Keep in mind that, as of this writing, summer began just over a month and a half ago, on June 21, 2011.

And now, let me take you for a good, old-fashioned boot-scoot down the streets strewn with children’s dead or bloodied bodies.

Oh, and mind the brain matter and bone fragments, please.

July 28, 2011
Boy, 13, accidentally shoots self in chest with pistol and dies at grandparents' home (adults not present), Boulder/Whitehall, Montana. Story here and here.

July 28, 2011
Boy shoots self in head; bicycle helmet damaged but “teenager” (no age given) is okay, Avon, Conn. Story here and here.

July 24, 2011
3-year-old boy shoots self in face, Huntsville, Ala. Child in critical condition as of August 3, 2011. Story here.

July 22, 2011
Eight-year-old boy shot once in chest and left arm by 12-gauge shotgun and killed; two other children, including a younger one, were present. His twin brother is devastated. No charges will be filed, Ripley, Miss [story dateline misstates this as Tennessee; Tippah County is in Mississippi]. Video above. Story here.

July 21, 2011
4-year-old boy shoots self dead at liquor store (yes, a liquor store), Beecher, Ill. Story here.

July 20, 2011
10-year-old boy shoots, kills 5-year-old brother, Belleville, Ill.
Story here.

July 19, 2011
A sad aberration: Cop's son, 3, shoots, kills self with officer's firearm, Maryland Heights, Mo. Story here.

July 18, 2011
11-year-old boy in coma after being shot in head at neighbor’s house. Boy was playing with two others, Clinton, Ind. No updates as of Aug. 3, 2011
Story here and here.

July 15, 2011
10-year-old boy shoots 12-year-old boy in side. Kids were playing with older boy’s parents’ unsecured handgun, Rupert, Idaho. Boy said to have been treated and is recovering at home. Story here.

July 14, 2011
Four-year-old boy shot to death while adults in the home, Philadelphia, Penn. Investigation underway to find gun and determine who shot him (self-inflicted or not). Story here and here.

July 14, 2011
5-year-old boy shoots, kills 2-year-old brother, Connersville, Ind. Story here.

July 12, 2011
Girl, 3, fatally shoots self in head, St. Louis, Mo. Story here.

June 30, 2011
11-year-old boy shoots, kills brother, 6 years old, Martinsville, Ind. The 11-year-old allegedly had threatened siblings before. Story here. Update: Boy's mother and her boyfriend have been charged with multiple counts of child neglect; story here.

June 26, 2011
2-year-old boy accidentally shoots, kills sister, 6, Fresno, Calif. Father reportedly in home at time of shooting, as were 3 of the 4 other children. Story here.

Death toll: At least 10 children, chiefly boys, lay gunned down in about a month and a half. And these are only the reports I could locate via a Google search that was not exhaustive. Goodness knows how many go unreported, underreported, falsely reported, or otherwise.

Gun Culture Etiquette: Lock Up Your Guns--and Your Sons?
How much higher does the child body count have to go? When will people begin to realize that this once-great country is headed straight down into the abyss? But, oh, thank goodness we’ll take our guns with us. You’ll have to pry them from the cold, dead hands of our children, yes?

You can blame the parents, grandparents, stepparents, babysitters, or guardians. Absolutely.

You would also be on firm ground faulting a society that allows rage to rule. Couple anger with lax to nonexistent gun laws and you have 65 accidental child deaths caused by firearms in the Gunited States (2007, the most recent year full data were available). These 2007 data even include one child under age 1 year (CDC report).

Gun Rights Don't Make it Right
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for children ages 1-4 and 5-14, the leading cause of death was accidents (unintentional injuries) in 2007. Of course, falls, drownings, and other terrible accidents figure into these data. But in the case of firearms, why not remove, or at least indict, the instrument whereby death is visited, accidentally or not, on those so young?

Here are a few ideas. Why not make guns more difficult to obtain for those with documented mental illness or antisocial behaviors, require locks and gun-safety classes for all gun buyers, counsel new parents about gun ownership in the hospital at the time of birth, empower pediatricians and other child care providers to ask parents and guardians about gun ownership, and have more transparency about who is buying these deadly weapons?

Oh, that's right. It's all about rights. My right to blow your friggin' head off at the drop of a Stetson trumps any darn rugrat's right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Simply view the National Rifle Association's attempt to block disclosure of semi-automatic rifle sales along the U.S. border.

The Wild West isn't Best, Especially for Children
If we take these steps and others offered by those more learned than I, perhaps someday we can salvage our dignity and pride and once again become the United States of America, not the Wild West that we currently are.

And, just for the record, the Wild West was brutal, bloody, and miserable, not some romantic or wondrous ideal where spurs jingled in the purple-saged majesty and singing Caucasian cowboys sparkled astride perky Palominos. Scalps were hacked off; people died of toothaches, coughs, and cuts; men routinely had their heads blown clean off. Let’s not return to that crap, okay?

Parents, know where your children are, even if they’re at a relative’s house. Ask if guns are present and demand to know or see how they are stored. Is the ammo stored apart from the gun? Are gun locks used? When will the children be unattended, and where are the guns kept--in a safe, in a drawer? If the answer is under a bed or a pillow, on the wall, on a shelf, in the closet, or in the car, that doesn’t cut it.

While we're on this important topic, be sure to check out the article “How do you ask other parents if there are guns in their house?” by Jessica Ashley here.

Our sons and daughters, grandkids, step-kids, nieces, nephews, kids’ playmates, and family friends are counting on us to get this right. Let’s not ignorantly lead them into a second coming of the Wild West. I’ll gladly fight tooth and nail sans guns--sorry, cowards; you need not come forward waving your firearm angrily--with irrational “gun activists” for the promise of children’s lives.

Yes, children are that important. Take a look at the video and the dead children’s faces and I defy you to debate me on this. Please, show your anger and ignorance--and through your vehement defense of your gun "rights" (a Creator-given right to murder; ain’t that grand?), make the argument that children don't matter.

Additional (re)sources:
Coalition to Stop Gun Violence
The Children’s Trust, Asking Saves Kids (ASK) Day

Gun Photo Caption: The image is of a third-generation 9-mm Glock 17 with a cable lock. It was provided, copyright- and royalty-free, by flickr user Kencf0618 here.