As the E. coli O157:H7 outbreak tied to a nationwide recall of mechanically tenderized steaks–and 21 illnesses in 16 states–continues to unfold, questions about where the meat was distributed remain unanswered.
Oklahoma-based National Steak and Poultry (NSP) announced on Christmas Eve it was initiating a recall of processed steak products after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) identified a cluster of E. coli O157:H7 illnesses.
A week after the announcement that recalled products were shipped to restaurants nationwide, neither the CDC nor FSIS is releasing a list of restaurant locations or a complete list of states involved in the outbreak.
Which restaurants received recalled meat remains a mystery
NSP originally indicated that it had primarily distributed the recalled product to three restaurant chains: Moe’s Southwest Grill, Carinos Italian Grill, and KRM Restaurants (owner of 54th Street Grill & Bar).
FSIS has not released a complete list of retail establishments that received the recalled meat–and likely will not. Yesterday the agency updated the retail distribution list, which usually has a list of retail locations that received recalled meat, with a “no retail sales” label.
According to FSIS, “no retail sales,” indicates that no retailers were identified for the recall in question–meaning that the product only went to restaurants and institutions, which are not considered “retail locations” by the agency.
No Moe’s restaurants are associated with the outbreak, though more than half of the company’s 400-some locations received the recalled meat, and all Moe’s steak tested at NSP produced negative results for E. coli, according to Lauren Barash, a spokeswoman for the company.
“We asked the locations potentially associated with the recall to follow the appropriate safety procedures and destroy the steak produced during a timeframe identified by NSP,” said Barash. “At Moe’s the safety and welfare of our customers and our employees is always our number one priority.”
Fired Up, Inc., owner of Carinos Italian Grill, and KRM both did not returned requests for comment on their connection to the outbreak.
Food Safety News also sent inquiries to restaurant chains that NSP had been known to supply in the past, including Olive Garden and Applebee’s. A spokesperson from Olive Garden confirmed that the chain had received recalled meat, but said that the product did not test positive for E. coli O157:H7.
“None of the product supplied to Olive Garden tested positive for any contaminant,” said company spokesman Mark Jaronski. “In keeping with our industry-leading food safety practices, however, we removed all the product from our restaurants immediately upon being notified by the supplier on Christmas Eve.”
Applebee’s corporate offices did not return requests for comment.
List of states reporting illnesses remains incomplete
According to the initial FSIS release, the outbreak is linked to illness in 6 states: Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, South Dakota, and Washington, but a CDC spokeswoman confirmed Wednesday morning that 16 states are reporting E. coli cases tied to the outbreak.
Neither the CDC nor FSIS has released a complete list of states involved in the outbreak. In response to several inquiries by Food Safety News, CDC officials deferred to the USDA and USDA officials said further questions about the outbreak should be directed to CDC.
There are 10 states with illnesses connected to the outbreak that have yet to be named.