By: Hwa Jin Chung

A recall notice of ground beef was initiated this week after two cases of E. coli were confirmed in children. The Vermont Department of Health investigated reports of the two children and released news that they had become ill after eating cooked beef burgers at the Bread & Butter Farm on September 15, 2017. One of the children was hospitalized. Both have recovered.

A possible E. coli contamination has led to the recall of approximately 133 pounds of ground beef products by Vermont Livestock Slaughter and Processing, LLC. The establishment in Ferrisburg, VT is recalling the products out of caution. This has been classified as a Class I Recall, which are issued when there is a reasonable probability that the use of the product will cause serious, adverse health consequences or death. The notice states that: “two case-patients were identified in Vermont with illness onset dates ranging from September 18, 2017, to September 23, 2017…Traceback information indicated that both case-patients consumed ground beef products at Bread & Butter Farm which was supplied by Vermont Livestock Slaughter & Processing.”

The beef products in question were produced on July 24 and 25, 2017, and were sold at Bread & Butter Farm in Shelburne, VT. Bread & Butter Farm is supplied by Vermont Livestock Slaughter & Processing. The products that are being recalled are:

  • 1-lb. vacuum sealed packages containing “Bread & Butter Farm Ground Beef” with lot code #072517BNB; and
  • 1-lb. vacuum sealed packages containing “Bread & Butter Farm Ground Beef” with lot code #072417BNB.

These products have the establishment number “EST. 9558” inside the USDA mark of inspection.

Incidents of E. coli O157:H7 illnesses were reported to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) on Sept. 30, 2017. Upon further investigation, the FSIS determined that cooked beef burgers served at an event at Bread & Butter Farm may have been linked to the illnesses.

What is E. coli O157:H7?

 There are different types of E. coli bacteria. Many strains of E. coli do not harm us, while others can make people very ill. Some E. coli bacteria produce a toxin known as Shiga toxin. The most common strain of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli in North America is E. coli O157:H7, which identified as a pathogen in 1982. E. coli O157:H7 is a potentially deadly bacterium. Most of the E. coli outbreaks that are reported on the news are related to E. coli O157:H7.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), E. coli O157:H7 can survive both refrigerator and freezer storage. Undercooked ground beef has been linked as the number one source of infection of E. coli O157:H7.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of E. coli O157:H7 include dehydration, bloody diarrhea and abdominal cramps, which may last from 2 to 8 days, but averages around 3 to 4 days after contact with the bacteria. Although most healthy individuals recover within a week, it is possible to develop a type of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). This severe complication occurs in about 10 percent of those infected by E. coli O157:H7. The groups at highest risk are children under 5 years of age, those who are immunocompromised, and the elderly. The symptoms of HUS include frequent and unexplained bruising, unusual paleness, or decrease urine output. Individuals showing these symptoms should seek emergency help immediately.

What if I have purchased these products?

Out of precaution, it is strongly urged that consumers who have the purchased the products under recall do not consume them.

How do I stay safe from E. coli?

If E. coli bacteria is present in ground meat, more of the meat surface is exposed to the pathogen. As meat is ground, the bacteria can also transfer from the surface of the meat into the center. If left out in the temperature danger zone (between 40 and 140° F), these bacteria can multiply rapidly.

When preparing meat, whether fresh or frozen, the FSIS strongly advises consumers to make sure the internal temperature of the ground beef reaches a temperature of 160° F as it cooks. According to the USDA, thorough cooking to an internal temperature of 160° F throughout kills E. coli O157:H7. The temperature should be checked with a food thermometer.

The color of cooked ground beef is not a reliable indicator that the meat has been cooked thoroughly. Some ground beef can appear somewhat brown even before it is cooked, as ground beef tends to brown as it is exposed to air. However, if all of the meat in the package has turned gray or brown, it may be an indication of spoil. In that case, you should not consume that meat. Ground beef must always be cooked until it reaches a safe temperature. It’s also important to note that some ground beef may remain pink even after it has been cooked above a temperature of 160° F. This further supports the fact that the color of the meat is not a sufficient indicator of the doneness of the meat.

What other precautions should I take when preparing ground meat?

It is recommended that fresh or thawed ground meat should also be consumed within one day. Ground beef should be refrigerated or frozen as soon as possible, and should never be left more than 2 hours at room temperature. This time is even shorter if the temperature is at 90° F or higher. In this same strain, ground beef should never be left on the counter to thaw. To defrost ground beef, the safest way to do so is in the refrigerator. Ground beef can also be thawed in the microwave or by submerging the meat in a watertight plastic bag into a bowl of cold water. The water should be changed every 30 minutes until the meat is thawed. After the ground beef is thawed, you should cook it immediately.

If refrigerated, the meat should be stored at 40° F or a little below, to slow the growth of bacteria. To freeze ground beef, it should be wrapped tightly. Frozen ground beef will lose quality over time.

Also, when handling raw meat, it is important for food preparers to wash their hands, utensils, and cooking surfaces frequently, especially before touching other food items that are ready-to-eat, such as salad or bread. This is because pathogens can be spread and cross-contaminate. This is a serious problem if the food that is touched will not reach the temperatures required to kill the bacteria.

FSIS will continue to investigate the cause of the reported illnesses. UnsafeFoods will also continue to monitor the reports and provide additional information as it becomes available.