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Beef recalled despite changes

Sunday, August 10, 2008

OMAHA, Neb. -- Federal authorities last month assured consumers that a meat plant linked to nearly 50 illnesses caused by tainted ground beef had made enough changes after a recall to ensure that its products were safe. Less than a month later, the same processor has recalled 1.2 million pounds of other beef products that might have sickened more than 30 people.

The changes made after the first recall of meat processed by Nebraska Beef Ltd. affected only ground beef, Laura Reiser, spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said Saturday.

Nebraska Beef on Friday recalled 1.2 million pounds of primal cuts, subprimal cuts and boxed beef that were made June 17, June 24 and July 8. The products have been linked to illnesses in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

As in the earlier recall, all the beef being recalled now was sold to retailers and other companies that planned to further process the meat. So product labels probably will not include the "EST 19336" code that identified Nebraska Beef.

A call to Nebraska Beef went unanswered Saturday.

Reiser said she wasn't sure at the time of the first recall whether the USDA investigation had spread beyond the area of the Omaha plant that produces ground beef, which has been linked to at least 49 cases of E. coli in seven states.

But she said information compiled in the weeks after the June 30 recall showed another strain of the potentially deadly E. coli bacterium in other beef products.

"We were focused on the products that were going out for grinding," she said Saturday. "We were focusing on the product that we tied to the (initial) illnesses."

Some of Nebraska Beef's products were sold by Whole Foods Market, which also announced a recall Friday. Whole Foods is recalling fresh ground beef sold June 2 to Aug. 6 because of worries about E. coli contamination.

A Whole Foods spokeswoman said it had received reports that seven people in Massachusetts and two people in Pennsylvania who shopped at Whole Foods became ill.

USDA spokeswoman Amanda Eamich said July 10 that federal officials were satisfied that Nebraska Beef had made enough changes to ensure product safety. Eamich said then that the plant would receive additional scrutiny in July, August and September to make sure the changes were made. She refused to discuss the details of the changes Nebraska Beef had made.

The company's July recall covered all beef trimmings and other products intended for use in ground beef that were produced between May 16 and June 26.

Several lawsuits have already been filed against privately held Nebraska Beef as a result of the earlier E. coli outbreak and recall. The company slaughters about 2,000 head of cattle a day and employs about 800 people in Omaha.

Cooking ground beef to an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees should kill E. coli bacteria, if they are present. The USDA recommends that people use a meat thermometer to verify they have cooked meat thoroughly.

The CDC estimates that the E. coli 0157:H7 variant sickens about 73,000 people and kills 61 each year in the United States. Most of those who die have weak immune systems, such as the elderly or very young.

Symptoms of E. coli infection include stomach cramps and diarrhea that may turn bloody within one to three days.


Associated Press writer Josh Funk contributed to this report.


On the Net:

USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service: www.fsis.usda.gov

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: http://cdc.gov/ecoli


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