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E. coli, ground beef -- making headlines again

August 11, 2008 |  3:07 pm

On Friday, the Nebraska Beef meat plant recalled 1.2 million pounds of beef after it was linked to illnesses in 12 states and Canada.

And it turns out that some of it has been lurking in ground beef sold at Whole Foods Market. After learning that several people had been sickened after eating beef bought at the store, Whole Foods recalled all the beef.

"The meat Whole Foods recalled came from Coleman Natural Foods, which unbeknownst to Whole Foods had processed it at Nebraska Beef of Omaha. One of the nation's largest meatpackers, Nebraska Beef has a history of food-safety and other violations," explains a Washington Post report.

Here's the statement from Whole Foods. The recall involves fresh ground beef purchased at the market between June 2 and Aug. 6, and the recall's only effective in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, where people may have been sickened after eating Whole Foods beef, a variety of other states and Canada --California's not on the list.

It's been quite the year for Escherichia coli O157H7 and its microbe friends, hasn't it? A recap of the recalls, from the L.A. Times news clips.

January: 188,000 pounds of ground beef patties recalled after five illnesses in Wisconsin and one in California.

February: The 143 million pounds of beef recalled after inhumane practices were uncovered at the Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Co. was made partly out of E. coli fears but more because sick cattle too weak to walk that were included in the meat could potentially have "mad cow" disease and contaminate it.

April and onward: Don't be blaming E. coli on the tomato (or was it pepper?) scare that sickened close to 1,000 Americans. That was salmonella. (Quite different, as you can see.) These may both be minuscule, rod-like blobs, but we're talking 140 million years of evolutionary divergence here.

June: Unspecified amounts of ground beef recalled from stores in Michigan and Ohio.

July: Nebraska Beef recalls 5 million pounds of beef after people sicken in seven states.

Aug: 153,630 pounds of ground beef recalled from Azusa-based S&S Foods after outbreak sickens at least 22 at a Virginia Boy Scouts camp.

Of course, huge volumes of beef and produce are moved around daily in this country, so the chance of getting sick is rare, though -- naturally -- the reports are unsettling. I'm glad I am a Brit and like burgers and steak cooked so well done I get ragged for it. (This won't save me from the cancer-causing heterocyclic amines, though.)

To read all about E. coli O157:H7 go here. To read all kinds of documents on safe food handling and preparation, go to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service.

-- Rosie Mestel

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