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Pressure's on for Obama to fill 'food czar' job at USDA
By Elizabeth Weise, USA TODAY
Calls from consumer advocates and politicians are growing louder for the Obama administration to name an undersecretary for food safety at the Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service, a position unfilled for more than a year.
It's a job with little glory but a lot of responsibility: keeping the meat, poultry, catfish and some eggs America eats safe by overseeing 9,000 inspectors who visit 7,000 slaughter and processing plants daily. The agency needs to overhaul its methods and set tough new standards for testing, consumer advocates say. Some fights they say only an undersecretary-level appointee can undertake include:

?Getting needle-tenderized meat, which can push E. coli O157:H7 and salmonella deep into steaks and chops where cooking doesn't easily kill it, labeled so consumers know it shouldn't be eaten rare. A current outbreak linked to this type of meat has sickened 21 people.
?Giving the USDA the right to name not just grocery stores that have sold recalled meat, but also restaurants.
?Using live video to monitor animals in pens, allowing short-staffed inspectors to do more.
News that last week the Obama administration appointed well-known food-safety expert Michael Taylor to a new position, as deputy commissioner for foods, at the Food and Drug Administration, only increased the volume of those calls.
Last year alone, food-borne illnesses caused 5,000 deaths, and the FSIS forced 59 recalls of suspect food, says Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn. "It is essential that we include food safety on the list of the critical issues that need to be addressed, and that means appointing an undersecretary as soon as possible," DeLauro says.
Congress is trying to put its stamp on food safety with bills to overhaul both the FDA and USDA, but leadership roles are crucial, too, experts say.
The undersecretary, a political appointee confirmed by Congress, can push for change in ways difficult for career USDA staffers, says Richard Raymond, who held the job until September 2008.
Potential candidates whose names have been floated for the position have included Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota; Michael Doyle, director of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia; and Caroline Smith DeWaal, director of food safety for the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Currently the position is held by acting undersecretary Jerold Mande, but Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has moved "aggressively" to fill it, says USDA's Caleb Weaver. FSIS is making headway in food safety, despite lack of a head, he says.

Unacceptable level of Campylobacter on retail chicken
Posted on January 15, 2010 by Drew Falkenstein
Trent Rowe reported yesterday on about the disturbing prevalence of campylobacter on chicken purchased at retail.
Most of the chickens we buy in supermarkets are contaminated with Salmonella and/or Campylobacter bacteria. They make us sick.
Consumer Reports checked 382 chickens from 100 stores around the country and found the bacteria in about two-thirds of the birds.
Only 34 percent of the birds had neither bug.
Figures from the Centers for Disease Control and prevention show that the bacteria from food sources infect 3.4 million Americans a year, resulting in 25,500 hospital cases and 500 deaths.
Unfortunately, odds are, the uncooked chicken you've got in your refrigerator or freezer at home is contaminated with something that can make you very sick, or kill you if you're a particularly susceptible person. But it doesn't have to be this way. Campylobacter and chicken, just like E. coli O157 and beef, is not a bacteria found in the animal's muscle tissues. Chickens and cows alike harbor the bugs that can make us sick in their gastrointestinal tract. So, just like E. coli and beef, the problem boils down to food manufacturers keeping feces off of edible meats.
This is exactly what the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), which is the branch of USDA responsible for meat, eggs, and poultry, is trying to achieve with its newly adopted performance standards in chickens and turkeys. Even though we won't get to zero, it seems like the industry should be able to lower the contamination level from "most of the birds you buy are contaminated."

FSIS to Test Ammoniated Beef for E. coli
by Helena Bottemiller | Jan 19, 2010
In the wake of a New York Times expose, which scrutinized the widespread use of ammoniated meat in ground beef products, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced in a directive that it will no longer exclude the chemically-treated beef from testing regulations.
The directive provides new directions for FSIS personnel on how to implement routine sampling of ammoniated, or "pH enhanced," beef products for E. coli O157:H7 in raw beef products.
Though FSIS did not indicate in the directive when the new testing protocol will become mandatory, the notice indicates a significant shift in how the agency regulates the chemically treated beef.
As the New York Times piece indicated at the end of December, ammoniated beef, manufactured by Beef Products Inc., had been previously excluded from testing requirements because the ammonia is supposed to raise the pH levels in the meat to kill off pathogens.
According to The Times, the USDA decided in 2007 that the ammonia process was so effective they exempted the treated beef--which is widely used by major fast food chains and the USDA National School Lunch Program--from routine pathogen testing.
However, The Times, citing government and industry testing records, reported that the treated beef was found contaminated with E. coli and Salmonella dozens of times over the past few years.
The Times findings have put considerable pressure on USDA officials to revisit the issue.
It remains to be seen whether FSIS' decsion to implement a testing program will be enough to dampen concerns over the ammoniated beef process. Though The Times piece focused on the efficacy of the process--it clearly found that the ammonia did not always kill dangerous pathogens effectively--there was considerable consumer outrage over the simple fact that ammonia was used in beef products to begin with.
Twitter, for example, continues to be abuzz over the findings.
"Yummy! Ammonia treated pink slime in most US ground beef," "Gross! No more ground beef for me," "Have some ammonia with your beef, maybe some E. coli too?" were among the thousands of comments in the twittersphere.
Despite the apparent yuck factor, the Associated Press reported recently that the big buyers of ammoniated beef--McDonalds, Burger King, and Cargill--were undeterred by the article and will continue to purchase the treated beef.

U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Issues Second Beef Recall of 2010: Take It Seriously!
Posted on January 19, 2010 by Bill Marler
Food Safety Advocate and Attorney Bill Marler encourages everyone?especially parents?to never use ANY food that¡¯s been recalled
The year may be young but beef recalls because of potential E. coli O157:H7 contamination are in full swing. In light of the two recalls already issued in 2010, food safety advocate and attorney Bill Marler has issued a strong warning to consumers?throw away or return that meat!
¡°There¡¯s a lot of misinformation about tainted meat and E. coli?many seem to believe that proper cooking practices will make it safe to eat. This is simply not the case. Safe preparation is always necessary, but tainted meat can make you sick no matter how it¡¯s cooked,¡± said Marler.
The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) issued a recall on 864,000 pounds of beef products that may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7. The meat was packaged by Montebello, Calif.-based Huntington Meat Packing and sold to consumers under the Huntington, Imperial Meat, and El Rancho brands. Some of the meat in question was sold almost two years ago. This is the second beef recall of 2010?the first came on January 11 and was initiated by the Massachusetts Department of Health over 2,500 pounds of beef from Adams Farm Slaughterhouse, LLC.
So what do you do if you¡¯re worried or think you may have beef covered under this recall? Marler provides these suggestions:
1. Go to for the latest in food recalls issued by the USDA.
2. Check any meat or food products you have for the information listed in recalls including brand names, packaging stamps, and distribution dates.
3. If you find you¡¯re in possession of meat or a food product that¡¯s apart of a recall, throw away or return the product immediately. You do not need your receipt to return food products under a recall.

Most importantly, Marler stresses, NEVER try to use the meat in question. Just because no one has gotten sick yet that doesn¡¯t mean the product is safe.
¡°Once a recall has been issued that means there¡¯s definite cause for concern and no manner of safe cooking practices will make the product edible,¡± says Marler. ¡°While everyone should take this recall seriously, parents should take special note as E. coli tends to affect children and the elderly in greater severity and numbers.¡±
Marler also takes issue with when this most recent?and several others like it?have been issued: over a holiday weekend when not nearly as many people are paying attention to news reports. This is dangerous because fewer people are made aware that a recall has been issued, which could potentially put individuals and families at unnecessary risk.
As Marler wrote on his blog,, on Tuesday morning: ¡°I need to hand it to the FSIS, I am beginning to lose track how often its recall notices go out on either a Friday night or on a holiday. They sure have learned to get bad news out when no one is watching.¡±

Rep. Delauro calls for Independent Food Safety Advisory Board
Posted on January 19, 2010 by Bill Marler
Washington, DC? Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (CT-3) released the following statement today in reaction to the recall of approximately 864,000 pounds of beef products potentially contaminated with E. coli by the Montebello, California-based company Huntington Meat Packing Inc. The recalled products include foodstuffs produced as far back as 2008.
¡°While any food safety recall is a major concern to me, this one is especially alarming as some of the products included were produced almost two years ago. This is a glaring indication that the current inspection system for meat and poultry is inherently flawed and not sufficient to protect the public health.
¡°Contaminated meat products continue to enter our food supply at a disturbing rate. And as recalls like this attest, it is time for the meat and poultry inspection system at USDA to be subject to a comprehensive review by an external, independent science board to ensure that the current system is adequately protecting the public health. Such a board would support and advise USDA, ensure that the inspection process is rigorous and scientifically robust, and recommend changes to any practices that are insufficiently protecting our food supply.¡±

USA - More rhetoric and little action on food safety
20 Jan 2010
While Congress is in the process of developing and passing legislation that will modernize the Food and Drug Administration¡¯s ability to regulate and inspect the segments of the food industry it has authority over, including seafood and produce, meat and poultry trade association officials are concerned about aspects of the bill that may impact their industry, which is regulated by the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
¡°If these precedents pass in the F.D.A. bill, they would surely be added to any U.S.D.A. food-safety legislation down the road,¡± said Joel Brandenberger, spokesman for the National Turkey Federation. ¡°They would include mandatory recall of poultry and meat products, instead of the current voluntary system, which works very well.
¡°Then there are civil penalties. We have inspectors in our plants continuously, so why would these penalties be needed? Civil penalties would not improve food safety, but merely be a moneymaking scheme for the government.¡±
A major food safety focus for the American Meat Institute is funding solutions-based research to make food products safer, including raw meat and poultry products as well as ready-to-eat products.
¡°The Institute has worked very hard to bring new food-safety technologies on-line to further enhance the safety of meat products, but the approval process is slow,¡± said Patrick Boyle, president of the A.M.I. ¡°One often cited example is the use of irradiation on meat-carcass surfaces. The A.M.I. petitioned U.S.D.A. five years ago to approve the use of such irradiation to reduce or eliminate pathogens on carcasses, but so far there has been no approval.
¡°Although the delays in the decision making process have been frustrating, A.M.I. will remain vigilant in its effort to get this food-safety tool approved and implemented.¡±
For poultry processors, the updated Salmonella and Campylobacter performance standards are a concern (see related story in this issue of Sosland Publishing¡¯s Food Safety Monitor).
¡°In the poultry industry, this year U.S.D.A. will reset the Salmonella standard,¡± said Richard Lobb, the National Chicken Council¡¯s spokesman, and he suspects the amount of Salmonella tolerated on raw meat will be lowered. He also believes the F.S.I.S. will set up a pathogen program for Campylobacter, ¡°which is even more pervasive than Salmonella,¡± Mr. Lobb pointed out. ¡°The agency may require plants to achieve reductions in Campylobacter. In any case, both areas will be affected by U.S.D.A. rulemaking this year.¡±
National Meat Association officials said it is critical that an undersecretary for food safety finally be named. The N.M.A.¡¯s spokesman, Jeremy Russell, said the appointment is ¡°a must¡± if there is going to be more movement and efforts made for greater food safety by industry, government and consumers.
¡°In order to advance food safety and get all of the parties involved, there needs to be someone with political power leading the charge and getting everyone to work together,¡± he said. ¡°That person is the undersecretary for food safety. The administration is likely coming to a decision on the undersecretary this year.¡±
The author is the Washington correspondent for Meat & Poultry magazine, a sister publication to Sosland Publishing¡¯s Food Safety Monitor. This story originally appeared in the January 2010 issue of Meat & Poultry.

Study Links GM Corn to Organ Damage
by Zach Mallove | Jan 20, 2010
A recent study analyzing the effects of genetically modified (GM) foods on mammalian health found that corn produced by the multinational corporation Monsanto is linked to organ damage in rats.
The study, which was published in the December 2009 issue of International Journal of Biological Sciences, was conducted over a 90-day period, in which select groups of rats were fed the three main commercialized GM corn - Mon 863, insecticide-producing Mon 810, and Roundup herbicide-absorbing NK 603. Based on the observed effects, researchers concluded that the three types of GM corn tested - all approved for human consumption in the United States - produced significant amounts of organ toxicity in rats, particularly in the kidney and liver functions. In sum, the study found that:
"Effects were mostly concentrated in kidney and liver function, the two major diet detoxification organs, but in detail differed with each GM type. In addition, some effects on heart, adrenal, spleen and blood cells were also frequently noted. As there normally exists sex differences in liver and kidney metabolism, the highly statistically significant disturbances in the function of these organs, seen between male and female rats, cannot be dismissed as biologically insignificant as has been proposed by others. We therefore conclude that our data strongly suggests that these GM maize varieties induce a state of hepatorenal toxicity.[...] These substances have never before been an integral part of the human or animal diet and therefore their health consequences for those who consume them, especially over long time periods are currently unknown."
International food activists and consumers have expressed deep concern, but few have shown surprise. According to the Huffington Post, Monsanto gathered its own crude statistical data on the GM corn in question after conducting a 90-day study, despite the known fact that chronic problems can rarely be found after 90 days. Based on this 90-day study, the corn was declared safe for consumption.
The study comes after a long string of negative publicity for Mansanto, which has a litany of complaints alleged against it such as intimidating farmers, using hostile tactics to squeeze out competition, false advertising, committing widespread international pollution, and producing Agent Orange.
Monsanto is also the leading seller of GM seeds - it sells about 90% of the world's supply. Not surprisingly, critics have accused Monsanto of aggressively promoting the use of genetically modified seeds in the United States and abroad.

While some groups like see the study as a rallying cry against Monsanto and GM crops, a few experts have questioned the clarity of the study's results. Dr. Marion Nestle, a leading nutritionist, wrote on her blog, "I found the paper extremely difficult to read, in part because it is written in exceptionally dense and opaque language, and in part because it presents the data in especially complicated tables and figures."
Monsanto, too, has directly responded to the study, stating in a press release that the research is "based on faulty analytical methods and reasoning and do not call into question the safety findings for these products."
Authors of the study responded to Monsanto's statement on the blog Food Freedom. "Our study contradicts Monsanto conclusions because Monsanto systematically neglects significant health effects in mammals that are different in males and females eating GMOs (genetically modified organisms), or not proportional to the dose. This is a very serious mistake, dramatic for public health. This is the major conclusion revealed by our work, the only careful analysis of Monsanto crude statistical data."
Correction: The study was published in the Journal of Biological Sciences. It was originally reported to have been published in the Journal of Microbiology.

DeLauro Calls for Panel to Review FSIS
by Helena Bottemiller | Jan 20, 2010
After learning of the recent recall of 390 tons of beef for E. coli contamination, U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), a longtime proponent of stronger food safety laws, called for the creation of an independent science board to review the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) efforts to protect public health.
"While any food safety recall is a major concern to me, this one is especially alarming as some of the products included were produced almost two years ago," said DeLauro in a statement emailed to reporters. "This is a glaring indication that the current inspection system for meat and poultry is inherently flawed and not sufficient to protect the public health."
"Contaminated meat products continue to enter our food supply at a disturbing rate," added DeLauro, who called for a comprehensive review of the meat and poultry system at USDA by an external, independent science board.
DeLauro stated that the independent board would, "support and advise USDA, ensure that the inspection process is rigorous and scientifically robust, and recommend changes to any practices that are insufficiently protecting our food supply."
This week's recall, which consisted of approximately 864,000 pounds of various ground beef products, was announced by the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
The recall was the second major Class I meat recall in a row to be announced on a holiday-- FSIS announced the last E. coli beef recall on Christmas Eve.

Unclear Whether New FDA Post Will Have Impact
by Helena Bottemiller | Jan 21, 2010
Many food safety experts and consumer advocates were quick to praise food safety veteran and former Monsanto executive Michael Taylor's appointment to deputy commissioner of foods at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last week, but it is unclear whether the move will have a significant impact on the embattled agency's effort to regulate 80 percent of the food supply.
"We're very happy over at S.T.O.P. to see Michael R. Taylor, a veteran food expert, named as deputy commissioner for foods at the FDA," said Safe Tables Our Priority (S.T.O.P.) on the organization's blog this week. "The newly created position is the first to oversee all the agency's many food and nutrition programs."
The new post undoubtedly raises the profile of food issues within the FDA, an agency that has been long criticized for too heavily focusing on regulating drugs and medical devices--but it is hard to predict whether the position will provide meaningful change for the fractured food safety system at FDA.
Dr. David Acheson, who used to hold the position most similar to Taylor's new gig--associate commissioner of foods, from January 2008 to July 2009--expressed doubt that the new post would have an immediate impact at the agency.
"Really it correlates to about the position I had, but with line authority over the centers," said Acheson, who explained that while the new authority is necessary, it wont necessarily be a game-changer.
"There is no doubt in my mind that this is a need," said Acheson, who called the increased authority "a sound decision."
"Foods need to be raised to a higher profile," he added.
When asked whether the new authority was likely to lead to immediate improvements in FDA's regulation of the food supply, Acheson expressed doubt, and pointed out that Taylor has essentially been running the food safety show at FDA since becoming senior adviser to FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg last summer.
"I think he's been doing this job since July," added Acheson. "We haven't seen a big shift in six months."

CBS to air story on antibiotic use in livestock and poultry

By Rita Jane Gabbett on 1/21/2010

The CBS Evening News plans next week to air a story on antibiotic use in livestock and poultry production, according to Tribune Co.'s The Morning Call Web site.
For the story, CBS anchor Katie Couric visited Koch's Turkey Farm in Tamaqua, Pa., which raises its turkeys free-range and antibiotic-free.
Originally scheduled to air this week, the segment has been rescheduled for sometime next week due to this week's Haiti crisis coverage, CBS producer Ashley Velie was quoted as saying.
The segment also is expected to include footage on Applegate Farms, a New Jersey producer of antibiotic-free, ready-to-eat foods including deli meats, bacon and hot dogs.
CBS has been to Missouri, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma and Denmark to research this story and is expected to focus on antibiotic use in pork and poultry production, according to industry groups that have been contacted by CBS.

Senators say Russian meat claims unfounded
By Drovers news source | Thursday, January 21, 2010
Russia is making bogus food safety claims to curtail or eliminate American pork, poultry and beef imports, say two U.S. Senators.
The allegation is made by the two top agricultural leaders in the U.S. Senate in a letter to President Obama, reports Food Safety News.
Democrat Blanche Lincoln and Republican Saxby Chambliss, the chair and ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, urged the President to "fully engage all resources to address these agricultural trade issues, especially with respect to U.S. exports of pork, poultry and beef," according to the
The letter states: "While the actions against our exports have taken different forms, they all erect non-scientific barriers to trade. First, if left unchallenged, they would have the effect of keeping U.S. products almost entirely out of Russian markets.
"Second, while the Russian government's varied justifications centered on sanitary measures, analyses or guidelines of international agencies such as the World Organization for Animal Health or the Codex Alimentarius do not support Russia's conclusions. As such, attempts to manage the flow of imports raises questions regarding Russia's willingness and readiness to become a member of the World Trade Organization."
"With respect to pork, a variety of Russian ministries have raised a series of questionable or undocumented objections about processing or residue issues for products originating from specific U.S. plants, leading to those facilities being de-listed for eligibility to export to Russia. With the de-listing of nearly 30 pork processing plants, 98 percent of pork processed in the United States is ineligible for export.
"With respect to poultry, as of January 1, 2010, the government of Russia has determined that it will no longer accept for import poultry that was processed with the use of chlorine rinses, even though numerous studies and most recognized scientific bodies worldwide have found this practice to be entirely safe.

Marler Clark Files First E. coli Lawsuit Against National Steak and Poultry
Posted : Thu, 21 Jan 2010 21:30:50 GMT
Author : Marler Clark,1132345.shtml

SALT LAKE CITY - (Business Wire) The first E. coli lawsuit against National Steak and Poultry (NSP), an Oklahoma meat manufacturing facility, was filed today in the Third Judicial District Court in Salt Lake City. The civil suit was filed by Marler Clark and by Utah attorneys Jared Faerber and Dustin Lance on behalf of a child sickened in the E. coli O157:H7 outbreak linked to NSP beef products. The lawsuit also names as yet unidentified ¡°John Doe¡± companies that may have been involved in distributing the tainted meat products.
The recall linked to National Steak and Poultry was announced on Christmas Eve 2009. It included 248,000 pounds of beef products potentially contaminated with E. coli O157:H7, a toxic pathogen. NSP announced the recall after the USDA and CDC became aware of a cluster of E. coli O157:H7 illnesses linked to the product in six states. Ultimately, the E. coli O157:H7 outbreak was expanded to twenty-one people in 16 states. The victims live in California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, and Washington State. According to the CDC, most of the people sickened in the outbreak fell ill between mid October and late November; nine were hospitalized; and one person developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a life-threatening complication, as a result of their E. coli infection. Most of the meat was distributed to restaurants.
According to the lawsuit, 14-year-old Utah resident ¡°CD¡± was infected with E. coli O157:H7 in October 2009. Within days of consuming contaminated meat, he began to experience severe E. coli symptoms including agonizing abdominal cramps and diarrhea that soon turned bloody. When his symptoms worsened, his parents rushed him to the ER at Columbia Lakeview Hospital in Bountiful, Utah where he was diagnosed with gastrointestinal bleeding; his parents were ultimately directed to take him to Primary Children¡¯s Medical Center due to his deteriorating condition. CD remained hospitalized at Primary Children¡¯s Medical Center in Ogden, Utah from November 2 through 4, 2009. He was diagnosed with infectious colitis, and a stool specimen that he submitted during his hospitalization soon tested positive for E. coli O157:H7. CD¡¯s parents learned from officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that the strain of E. coli O157:H7 that had infected their son matched the outbreak strain linked to the defendant National Steak Processor¡¯s beef products.
The lawsuit was filed by Seattle foodborne illness law firm Marler Clark, and by Utah counsel, Dustin Lance, of The Lance Firm, P.C., and Jared Faerber of The Faerber Law Firm, P.C. Mr. Lance and Mr. Faerber are experienced Utah trial lawyers, and have both previously represented Utah residents sickened by contaminated food products. Moreover, both Utah counsel have worked with Mr. Marler and his firm on past foodborne illness cases within the State of Utah.
ABOUT MARLER CLARK: Bill Marler is an accomplished food safety advocate and attorney at Marler Clark. He began litigating foodborne illness cases in 1993, when he successfully represented Brianne Kiner, the most seriously injured survivor of the Jack in the Box E. coli O157:H7 outbreak. Over the years Marler Clark has become the leader in representing victims of foodborne illness and has gone against companies that include Odwalla, Chili¡¯s ConAgra, Dole, KFC, Sizzler, Golden Corral, and Wendy¡¯s. Under the auspices of the non-profit Outbreak, Inc, Mr. Marler spends much of his time speaking about food safety and has testified before Congress as well as State Legislatures. He is a frequent author of articles related to foodborne illness in food safety journals and magazines as well as on Food Safety News and his personal blog, For further information contact Mary Siceloff at 206-719-4705,, or visit

Mystery Outbreak Hits Block in WI Town
by Dan Flynn | Jan 20, 2010
Parents of four Wisconsin children who've been fighting bacterial diseases since December want somebody to solve what some there are calling the Grand Avenue mystery.
The four children live side-by-side and kitty corner from one another in a one-block area of Grand Avenue in the Village of Belgium located about 40 miles north of Milwaukee. The tiny town of about 2,000 is set back about two miles from Lake Michigan.
"If they are all related, you'd think somebody would want to find that out, wouldn't you?" asked Emily Golden, mother of Chris Golden, who is recovering at home from infections of both cryptosporidium and clostridium difficile (C. diff). He began showing symptoms on Jan. 8.
Chris, however, did not test positive for E. coli. Other other children on the block did; since Dec. 12, the Ozaukee County Health Department has confirmed that two children tested positive for E. coli, and says the third is a "probable" case.
Four-year-old Tyson Becker was infected with E. coli and developed Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS). He was at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin in Milwaukee from Dec. 17 to Jan. 5. While hospitalized, his kidneys shut down and he required three surgeries, two blood transfusions, and kidney dialysis.
"Once you've gone through it, you don't want to see any other kid get it," says Cara Becker, Tyson's mom.
The two other E. coli victims came down with their infections one month apart from one another. One of those two was hospitalized.
With the block's stricken children ranging from age 2 to 8, they have little contact with one another, and the outdoors are frozen and covered in Wisconsin's famous ice and snow. The town has tested its water and says the results were all clean.
The block's illnesses are being investigated by the Ozaukee County Health Department, which is getting help from the state. But having an assortment of bacterial infections hit four children in one block is leaving parents feeling very uneasy.
"We've been told it may be something in the environment," says Cara Becker. But she, like others in the neighborhood, would like more effort put forward to solve the mystery.
While parents in the neighborhood worry about their kids getting sick, one expert on these bacterial illnesses says the danger may have passed.
"The silver lining appears to be that there's not a persisting source of infection, otherwise additional people would continue to fall ill, says Seattle attorney Drew Falkenstein. "But that's cold comfort to the mother of a young child hospitalized with HUS."
Falkenstein, who has been involved in E. coli O157:H7 litigation on behalf of victims in Wisconsin, says the state's surveillance, microbiological, and sanitation personnel have the talent to solve the mystery, if it can be done.
"Public health looks to be taking all the right steps in trying to find a source for these illnesses. That will obviously be important, if only for peace of mind, for the folks who live in that area of town," he says.
Bill Marler, who works with Falkenstein, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) should also be involved.
"There are 73,000 E. coli O157:H7 cases yearly, with thousands hospitalized. Nearly 100, mostly children, die. In many cases a source is not determined," Marler, says. "Here, however, with these kids being sick in the same area in same time frame, a source should be found. Hopefully PulseNet, the CDC's genetic database of E. coli bacteria, is involved."

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