On September 24, 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that they are investigating an outbreak of E. coli poisoning that they have linked to beef products. There have been 7 cases of E. coli poisoning reported in several different states. Five of those sickened in the outbreak required hospitalization for their illnesses. There have been no deaths or reports of Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS). A total of 4 different states have reported illnesses, including Connecticut with 2 cases, Massachusetts with 3 cases, Pennsylvania with 1 case, and West Virginia with 1 case. These illnesses began between the dates of June 17 and September 4, 2016. People affected by the outbreak range in age from 1 to 74 years old, and the outbreak has a median age of 25. The CDC reports that their information regarding illnesses stops after September 8. If another E. coli infection took place after September 8, 2016, it may not have been reported as of yet. This is because it takes two or three weeks for news of new illnesses to reach the CDC.

The CDC has noted that they are working alongside local and state health officials to track down further cases of E. coli poisoning. The CDC, after learning of the illnesses, used the PulseNet system to locate other cases of illness caused by similar strains of bacteria. Another tactic common in outbreak investigations is to interview those that have been sickened. The CDC has conducted interviews with 5 of those sickened. Over the course of these interviews, all 5 people reported eating ground beef prior to their illness. The Connecticut Department of Public Health took samples of leftover ground beef in an ill person’s house. The agency also took samples from a restaurant. Both samples tested positive for the strain of E. coli responsible for this outbreak. Adams Farm Slaughterhouse had produced the ground beef, in both cases. Other parts of the traceback investigation also pointed towards Adams Farm Slaughterhouse as the source of the outbreak.

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This revelation triggered a recall, which was issued by Adams Farm Slaughterhouse on September 24, 2016. The Athol, Massachusetts company recalled beef, veal, and bison products. This recall is large, and it includes more than 50 products. These include: rolled chuck roast, tenderloin steak, beef trim, ribeye steak, skirt steak, flank steak, ground beef patties, beef brisket, beef loin, tri tip roast, top round steak, ground beef, whole veal carcass, osso buco, veal steak, veal trim, veal cutlets, veal roast, bison cuts, bison t-bone steak, ground bison patties, bison loin, bison soup bones, whole sirloin strip, whole ribeye, whole top round, bison kebabs made from top round, london broil steak made from round, delmonico steak, and other products. A full list of those products can be found here.

The recalled meat products originated from animals slaughtered on July 15, 25, 27, August 3, 8, 10, 11, 17, 24, and 26. Further processing of the meat products took place between July 21 and September 22, 2016. All products under recall have the establishment number “EST. 5497” labeled on the inside of the United States Department of Agriculture inspection mark. Products can also be identified by the lot number 120361, 121061, 121761, 121861, 122161, 122261, 122361, 122461, 122861, 123061, 123161, 123261, 123561, 123661, 123861, 124561, 125261, 125861, 125961, 124261, 120461, 120961, 121161, 121661, 124461, 125061, or 126661. Products subjected to the recall were distributed to farmers’ markets, restaurants, and retail locations in Massachusetts, New York, and Connecticut. It is possible that the company further distributed these products to other states. Health officials have recommended that anyone with recalled meat products in their homes throw them out immediately. If consumed, the meat may lead to an E. coli infection.

And That’s Not All …

This is not the only major recall related to beef this week. On September 27, 2016, Caviness Beef Packers, a Hereford, Texas company, also issued a recall of over two thousand pounds of beef trim products. The company issued a statement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) that the beef products could be tainted with E. Coli O103 after a routine AMS Commodity Program test was conducted.

The concerns relating to this recall stem from the fact that most testing does not account for non-Shiga toxin producing E. Coli strains, like E. Coli O103, as it is difficult to isolate. However, people can still become ill after ingestion of products with E. Coli O103 contamination. The United States Department of Agriculture mentions in its release that “[m]ost people recover within a week, but, rarely, some develop a more severe infection. Hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) is uncommon with O103 infection.”

The company and the USDA advise the public to check their freezer’s for any potentially contaminated products. For more information, please visit the USDA’s notice here.

Why is E. Coli Often Linked with Beef?

E. coli is a family of bacteria that live in most environments. The large majority of E. coli strains are harmless to humans. In fact, many beneficial strains of E. coli live in the intestines of humans and other animals. Some E. coli, though, produce toxins that can cause illness in humans. While there are six different categories associated with disease causing E. coli, the most common is Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, or STEC. Shiga toxin-producing bacteria are the cause of the Matador outbreak. These bacteria most commonly contaminate items such as beef, other meats, raw milk, apple cider, and cheese made with raw milk. E. coli can also to contaminate fruits, vegetables, and water.

What Does This Mean for Myself and Those I Love?

E. coli infections are one of the most common forms of foodborne illness. The CDC estimates that about 265,000 E. coli infections occur each year in the United States. While E. coli infections can affect people from any age group and background, young children and the elderly are at an increased risk of developing a serious infection or even HUS.

When contaminated food exposes someone to pathogenic E. coli bacteria, they can expect to see symptoms within an average of 3 or 4 days. Sometimes the bacteria could produce symptoms as early as one day or as late as ten days after the initial exposure. Symptoms of E. coli poisoning can vary, but most develop vomiting, fever, stomach cramps, and diarrhea. Doctors may test to confirm the presence of E. coli, but in most cases the best treatment for E. coli is rest and hydration. In most cases, an E. coli infection will subside on its own within a week. However, some cases of E. coli infections can be life threatening. In about 5 to 10% of E. coli poisoning cases, a complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) arises. HUS is a complication that damages red blood cells in the bloodstream. These damaged cells undergo a filtration process and the kidneys dispose of them. Filtering these HUS-affected blood cells can cause damage to the kidneys, and could even lead to kidney failure. HUS can cause other symptoms, including decreased frequency of urination, loss of color in the eyes and cheeks, and fatigue. If you or a loved one begins to show the symptoms of E. coli poisoning or HUS, contact a medical professional.