By: Candess Zona-Mendola


E. coli
and beef are back in the news with week with yet another recall of beef products. A New Jersey-based meat wholesaler, G&M Co., issued a recall on over 3,500 pounds of plastic packaged bulk beef cuts and trimmings on June 14, 2016. The recall comes after a random sampling of its products was conducted by the United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) during a routine effectiveness check. The FSIS Inspection Program Personnel had an positive test return on the random sample and was able to confirm a positive relation to Escherichia coli O157:H7. The FSIS released the following statement on their website:

  1. “The issue was identified on June 14, 2016, when FSIS Inspection Program Personnel (IPP) conducted trace-back and trace-forward activities after the firm received a confirmed positive for Escherichia coli O157:H7 from FSIS sampling and testing.”

    The contaminated products were sold in the states of New Jersey and New York. The packages show the United States Department of Agriculture’s inspection stamp with the establishment number “M5476” on the outside plastic packaging.  The products were produced from June 8, 2016 – June 10, 2016.  As the beef trimmings and cuts are packaged in various sized boxes and weights, which range from 30 to 195 pounds, it is very possible that only minimal amounts of the products have been consumed. The FSIS and G&M Co. have announced that they have concerns about the products as they may have been frozen and are still in consumer’s freezers. As the recall comes very shortly after the products were released to the public for sale and as there have been no confirmed reports of illness relating to the products, the FSIS and G&M Co. are hopeful that the contamination was caught in time.

    FSIS and G&M Co. recommend that the general public check their freezers and refrigerators for any products that may be subject to the recall. It is important to note that the meat products may appear to be safe, have no smell, and may have no color issues. This does not mean the product is safe for consumption. FSIS urges the community to refrain from consumption of the products, and to immediately return the products to the retailer. For more information about this recall, please visit the FSIS notice here.

    What is E. coli O157:H7?

    Escherichia coli O157:H7 or E. coli O157:H7 is an enterohemorrhagic strain of E. coli that produces a toxin in the gastrointestinal tract of humans after ingestion of contaminated food, water, or beverages. Although many serotypes of E. coli are relatively harmless to humans, E. coli O157:H7 belongs to the group that could cause severe illness or even death in humans.

    People can become infected with E. coli O157:H7 in various ways, but typically infection is transmitted through the fecal-oral route. This means that a food product may have come into contact with contaminated animal or human feces. If a person ingests the contaminated product, they may become ill.

    If a human becomes infected with E. coli O157:H7, they begin to show symptoms of the infection within two to eight days. The symptoms typically range from abdominal pain to diarrhea, but could become more sever to include fever, bloody diarrhea, dehydration, and acute kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). It is crucial to seek emergency medical treatment if you are showing any signs or symptoms of E. coli O157:H7 infection as prompt treatment could prevent further serious complications.

    2016 E. coli Recalls

    This latest recall comes only a few weeks after the Meating Place, Inc. issued its recall of their five pound boxes of beef patties. The products were also found to be contaminated with Escherichia coli O157:H7. However, E. coli has not only been linked to beef products this year. Positive E. coli testing has been linked to flour and sprouts in 2016. Both the flour and sprouts recalls were discovered using the same DNA analysis of the bacterium and were linked to various cases of illness.

    Prevention

    Despite the incidences of E. coli contamination this year, there is good news. You can easily and effectively protect yourself from E. coli infection. As with other good food safety practices, proper sanitation and cooking temperatures are key to ensuring you and your family prevent illness. Some of these practices include:

    • Avoid consuming raw milk. Raw milk is milk that has not been pasteurized. More or less, it is straight from cow to bottle – no heating, no killing of bacteria.
    • Avoid consuming unpasteurized juice. Alike to raw milk, unpasteurized juice can also be contaminated with E. coli in a wide variety of ways. Pasteurization is proven to kill E. coli if a particular fruit or vegetable has come into contact with it.
    • Use a Meat Thermometer. An investment of a good quality meat thermometer is always a good idea for food safety as a whole, but a great idea when it comes to preventing E. coli infection. As a prevention tool, it is best to cook meat thoroughly until it reaches a temperature of at least 160° F for beef, and 165° F for chicken. One cannot decipher the temperature and doneness of meat purely by sight – meaning that, just because it is not pink, does not mean it is done. Be cautious and use the thermometer.
    • Practice good hygiene. Beyond the obvious practice of good hygiene. If you are someone who works with food, meticulous hygiene is a must.
      • Wash the kitchen’s food preparation areas, countertops, etc.
      • Wash your hands, and often.
      • Sanitize your dishes. The Food and Drug Administration recommends you “sanitize them [the aforementioned areas] with a solution of one tablespoon of chlorine bleach to one gallon of hot water; then dry with a clean cloth or paper towel that has not been previously used.”
    • Seek medical attention and follow your physician’s recommendations. coli can potentially spread from person to person through direct contact. Again, the transmission is mainly fecal-to-oral; however, it is very easy for someone who is immunocompromised or even a young child to become ill from something as simple as touching a door knob that was used by an ill person who neglected to wash their hands. People who have been positively diagnosed with E. coli infection should heed their physician’s advisements, take any medications prescribed, and maintain good hygienic habits.

    As with most infections, we all have the power to stop the spread. G&M Co. and FSIS therefore recommend that the general public regard the notification of the recall and take steps to ensure the contaminated products are not consumed.