Fresno meatpacker linked to salmonella outbreak

Source of Article:

10:36 AM PT, Aug 6 2009

     There's another salmonella scare -- this time with ground beef from a Fresno packinghouse.

    The U.S Department of Agriculture said today that Beef Packers Inc. is recalling more than 800,000 pounds of ground beef products that may be linked to an outbreak of salmonella.

     The beef was processed between June 5 and June 23 and has "EST. 31913" printed on the case code labels. It was sold in stores in California, Arizona, Colorado and Utah.

     Because the meat was repackaged into consumer-size packages and sold under different retail brand names, the agency is urging shoppers to check with their retailer to determine whether they may have purchased any of the meat.  Consumers with questions about the recall can also call the Beef Packers consumer line at (877) 872-3635.

     The link between the salmonella outbreak and the ground beef was discovered after a flurry of illnesses by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which alerted federal authorities.

     This outbreak involves the Salmonella Newport strain of the disease, which is resistant to many commonly prescribed drugs and results in more frequent hospitalizations, regulators said.

     Salmonella is among the most common food-borne illnesses and can be life-threatening, especially to those with weak immune systems, including infants, the elderly, and persons with HIV infection or undergoing chemotherapy. It typically causes diarrhea, abdominal cramps and fever within eight to 72 hours of infection. Additional symptoms may be chills, headache, nausea and vomiting that can last up to seven days.

     It sometimes appears in food that is typically eaten raw, such as tomatoes, peppers and melons. Just two weeks ago a Salinas company recalled romaine lettuce because it was linked to the illness. A long-running outbreak linked to peanuts earlier this year killed at least nine people.  

     The steady drumbeat of food-borne illness outbreaks prompted the House of Representatives to pass food safety legislation last week. The bill would require more government inspections and oversight of food manufacturers and give the Food and Drug Administration new authority to order recalls. (The USDA oversees meat products.)

      It also would require the FDA to develop a system for better tracing food-borne illnesses, and allow the government to penalize those who violate the law. Food companies would be required to create detailed food safety plans. A similar bill awaits action in the Senate.

    Regulators probably jumped on the beef case out of concern for antibiotic resistant strains of salmonella, said William Marler, a Seattle attorney and food safety expert who specializes in food-borne illness litigation.

    Unlike the often lethal food-borne bacterium E. coli 0157:H7, salmonella is not considered an “adulterant” in federal food regulations and does not trigger an automatic recall, Marler said.

    “I commend the company for recalling the beef because legally, they would be on strong ground not to do so,” he said.

     The pathogens are treated differently because it takes only a small about of E. coli – just 50 organisms to infect a person – where it typically takes millions of salmonella bacteria to trigger an illness, Marler said.
     Nonetheless, Marler would like to see regulation expanded to include salmonella and other pathogens that cause serious illness.

     “I think that anything that can poison or kill a person should be listed as an adulterant,” he said.

     Thorough cooking and proper meat handling practices can prevent infections from contaminated beef and other meats.

      Some precautions include washing hands with hot, soapy water for at least 20 seconds both before and after handling raw meat and poultry. Cooks should prevent raw meat, fish and poultry from touching other food such as fruit and vegetables that will be served raw. And they should make sure that dishes and utensils used to prepare meats also aren't  used for other raw foods unless they are washed with hot soapy water between use.

     The agency also suggests using one set of cutting boards for raw meat, poultry and egg products and a different set for preparing foods that will be served without cooking.  Beef and pork should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160°. Poultry needs to go to 165°. A good food thermometer is helpful for checking the internal temperatures of meat.

      It's also important to get raw meat and poultry into the refrigerator within two hours after purchase and even faster on hot days.

-- Jerry Hirsch




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