Health officials investigating a growing E. coli outbreak that has sickened 177 people in 10 states are focusing on two meat companies, including one in Georgia, for a likely connection.
The Carrollton company K2D Foods, doing business as Colorado Premium Foods, provides meats to restaurants. It is recalling 113,424 pounds of raw ground beef products that may be contaminated with E. coli 0103, according to a health alert released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Grant Park Packing, of Franklin Park, Illinois, is also recalling approximately 53,200 pounds of raw ground beef products.
The CDC said both companies had ground beef samples test positive for E. coli 0103, which is responsible for the current outbreak. However, more testing is underway to try to establish a definitive link between the contaminated meat and the particular bacteria strain that’s caused illness.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service, which regulates meat and poultry, is taking the lead in the investigation.
The recalled ground beef products from K2D Foods — two 24-pound vacuum-packages containing raw “Ground Beef Puck” — with “use thru” dates of April 14, April 17, April 20, April 23, April 28 and April 30.
They were shipped to distributors in Norcross and in Florida, then sent to restaurants. Federal health officials didn’t name specific restaurants where contaminated beef may have been served, but a list likely will be released after the investigation is complete.
Calls to the K2D’s headquarters were not immediately returned.
At Grant Park Packing, the bulk raw ground beef was marked “for institutional use only” with pack dates of October and November of last year. The items were shipped to Minnesota for further distribution and Kentucky for institutional use.
The CDC said it is continuing its investigation to determine whether more contaminated meat, possibly from more companies, may be recalled. So far, the CDC is not advising the public to stop eating ground beef or that retailers and restaurants stop selling it. But they are urging restaurants, retailers and institutions to take notice of the recall. None of the meat recalled is sold at grocery stores.
The agency is also emphasizing the importance of safely handling and thoroughly cooking ground beef.
While illness caused by the E. coli 0103 strain is considered serious, it’s less likely to cause the severe symptoms, kidney failure and death that E. coli 0157 did last year. Outbreaks of E. coli 0103 — which can lead to stomach cramping, vomiting and diarrhea — are relatively uncommon, but this current one is the largest on record.
Since March 1, 65 people have fallen ill in Kentucky, 52 in Tennessee, 41 in Georgia, 10 in Ohio, three in Florida and two in Virginia. Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota and Mississippi have each reported one case. Twenty-one people have been hospitalized in this outbreak, but no deaths have been reported.
The agency offered tips for avoiding the bacteria, advising people to thoroughly wash counter tops, cutting boards, plates and utensils that touch raw meat with hot, soapy water or a bleach solution to prevent contamination.
Hamburgers and mixtures like meatloaf also should be cooked until they reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees, to kill harmful germs.
Symptoms of E. coli infection usually begin three or four days after consuming the bacteria. Most people recover within a week. The CDC recommends that those who develop symptoms of E. coli infection contact their doctors as soon as possible.
The CDC also recommends a number of other steps to reduce risk of exposure to E. coli, such as careful hand washing, rinsing fruits and vegetables, and avoiding unpasteurized dairy products and unpasteurized juices.