Beef E. coli Food Poisoning Cases Reported in 16 States

At least 21 people in 16 states have fallen ill after eating contaminated meat pulled from restaurants last month as part of a beef recall.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that recalled National Steak and Poultry beef products have been linked to 21 E. coli food poisoning cases, which have resulted in at least nine people being hospitalized. Health officials from the USDA and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now suspect that the mechanical tenderizing process for the meats may be partially to blame.

The beef recall, announced on Christmas Eve, included 248,000 pounds of a large variety of National Steak and Poultry blade tenderized products, including sirloin tips, bacon-wrapped fillets and skirt steak. The meat was sold to restaurants throughout the United States.

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Health inspectors say the meat is contaminated with E. coli O157:H7, one of the more common causes of food poisoning in the United States. When left untreated, it can lead to dehydration and potentially life-threatening illness. While most healthy adults recover within a few week from food poisoning caused by E. coli, young children and the elderly could be at risk for more severe illness. If the toxin enters the blood stream, E. coli could also lead to kidney failure known as Hemolytic-Urenia Syndrome (HUS).

USDA and CDC officials say that the tenderization process, which involves the meat being poked by hundreds of thin needles, may increase the risk of E. coli on the surface being pushed into the interior of the meat, where heat from cooking is less likely to kill it if it is not heated all the way through. About 50 million pounds of meat was tenderized this way per month in 2008, according to the USDA.

The CDC reports that there are about 76 million cases of food-related illnesses reported every year, with more than 300,000 people hospitalized and 5,000 deaths. There were at least nine major recalls of beef products in 2009.


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