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E. coli Poisoning Outbreak Leads to Ground Beef Recall for 500,000 Pounds

Federal food inspectors announced a recall on Saturday for more than half a million pounds of ground beef after discovering potential contamination as part of an investigation into an outbreak of E. coli food poisoning in New England, which has resulted in at least one deaths and dozens of illnesses.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced the ground beef recall for 545,699 lbs. of meat distributed by Fairbank Farms. The recall came less than one week after another meat recall involving 1,000 lbs. of ground beef by South Shore Meats Co.

The ground beef may be contaminated with the E. coli O157:H7, a strain of bacteria that could be connected with food poisoning cases identified across New England. E. coli O157:H7 is 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 E. coli food poisoning, 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).

It is unclear whether the two recalls are related, and there have been conflicting press reports over which of a couple dozen illnesses and one death are connected to the Fairbanks or South Shore Meats recalls. While some reports say the two recalls are unconnected, others have suggested that the meat from the two recalls may have been handled at the same packing plant or slaughter house. The Boston Globe reports that FSIS investigators say that the two simultaneous outbreaks in the same region are just a coincidence.

Investigators are certain that about 20 school children in Rhode Island fell ill after eating tainted ground beef from South Shore Meats while at an environmental camp in Massachusetts. Two of the students were hospitalized, but later released. They also say that one New Hampshire man has died and at least two others fell ill from eating Fairbank Farms E. coli-contaminated ground beef.

In both recalls, the ground beef was produced in mid-September and is past its expiration date. Company officials and health inspectors say they are concerned that much of the ground beef could be stored in people’s freezers.

The recalled Fairbanks Farms ground beef was sold at Shaw’s Trader Joe’s Price Chopper, Giant, Ford Brothers, Lancaster and Wild Harvest and BJ’s stores through out the New England states, as well as in Maryland, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Virginia. The packages will have an establishment number of EST 492 inside the USDA mark of inspection or on the nutrition label.

The Fairbanks Farms ground beef was sold under such labels as Shaw’s, Giant’s Nature’s Promise label, and other generic store labels. The meat would have had a sell-by date of September 19 through September 28.

South Shore Meats officials have said that their meat was sold to wholesalers and distributors in Massachusetts, who would have then resold the meat to other retailers, restaurants and other sellers. Company officials have said there is no list of who may have gotten the meat available, and they believe that all the affected meat has been either recalled or consumed.

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