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E. coli Outbreak May Be Tied to Beef

At Least 32 People in Ohio and Michigan Sickened; Ground Beef Linked to Many of the Cases
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

June 25, 2008 -- Ground beef may be to blame for an E. coli outbreak that has sickened at least 32 people in Ohio and Michigan, prompting Kroger stores in Michigan and in central and northern Ohio to recall all ground beef products sold at Kroger between May 21 and June 8.

E. coli bacteria can cause diarrhea, which may be bloody, as well as stomach cramps and vomiting. Most people recover within five to seven days, but some cases may be severe or life-threatening; infants, elders, and people with weak immune systems are particularly at risk.

Last night, Michigan reported 15 E. coli cases, including 10 people who had been hospitalized; Ohio reported 17 confirmed cases and two probable cases of E. coli infection.

The Michigan and Ohio E. coli cases, which began in late May and early June, are linked, based on interviews with patients and lab tests, according to the CDC.

Ground beef is emerging as a leading suspect in many of the cases.

Michigan health officials say that more than half of the Michigan patients said they had bought and ate ground beef from Kroger stores. In Ohio, a beef sample from one of the patients tested positive for E. coli. That beef was bought at a Kroger store in Ohio, according to Ohio's health department. A second beef sample, bought by a consumer at another Ohio Kroger store, showed no signs of E. coli.

A Kroger news release states that the ground beef in question isn't on store shelves now, but it may be in consumers' freezers at home. People in Michigan and central and northern Ohio (the Columbus and Toledo areas) with any Kroger ground beef products -- regardless of packaging -- with sell-by dates of May 21 through June 8, 2008 should return those products to Kroger stores for a full refund or replacement. For more information, call Kroger at 800-632-6900. The recall doesn't apply to Kroger stores in other parts of the country.

The CDC's web site includes these tips for avoiding E. coli infection:

  • During an E. coli outbreak, carefully follow instructions provided by public health officials on what foods to avoid in order to protect yourself and your family from infection.
  • Cook all ground beef thoroughly -- 160 degrees Fahrenheit on a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the meat.
  • Don't eat ground beef that's still pink in the middle.
  • Drink only pasteurized milk, juice, or cider.
  • Drink water from safe sources.
  • Don't swallow lake or pool water while you are swimming.
  • Don't spread bacteria in your kitchen -- keep raw meat away from other foods and wash your hands, cutting board, counter, dishes, and utensils with hot, soapy water after they touch raw meat, spinach, greens, or sprouts.
  • If a restaurant serves you an undercooked hamburger, send it back for more cooking. Ask for a new bun and clean plate, too.
  • Never put cooked hamburgers or meats on the plate they were on before cooking.

 

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