A Salmonella Enteritidis outbreak linked to Cargill ground beef is affecting 33 people in 7 Northeastern states, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday, a day after the company recalled nearly 30,000 pounds of product.
According to CDC, 11 of those connected to the outbreak have been hospitalized and no deaths have been reported. An investigation by state, local and federal public health agencies has zeroed in on ground beef processed by Cargill Meat Solutions at a single facility in Pennsylvania as the likely source of the outbreak. Authorities were able to conclusively link illnesses in five case patients to ground beef products produced at the Cargill meat establishment (EST. 9400) after state labs found the outbreak strain in two separate leftover ground beef samples from patient homes.
CDC said that the different agencies would continue coordinating with one another and using PulseNet to identify ill people connected to the outbreak. So far, the illness count for each state is: Maine (1), Massachusetts (3), New Hampshire (2), New York (14), Rhode Island (1), Virginia (2) and Vermont (10). Illness onset dates range from June 6 to June 26 and those sickened range from 12 years to 101 years old. More than half are female.
Though it’s likely most of the recalled meat has been consumed, health officials are urging consumers to check their refrigerators and freezers for any meat that might remain — consumers should return the product for a refund. Since some of the ground beef was repackaged into consumer-sized packages sold at retail, CDC urged consumers to visit the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service website to view the list of stores that carried the beef, which may not bear the EST. 9400 mark.
Cargill Beef’s president John Keating said late Sunday he was “sorry or anyone who became sick from eating ground beef we may have produced.”
“Ensuring our beef products are safe is our highest priority and an investigation is underway to determine the source of Salmonella in the animals we purchased for harvest and any actions necessary to prevent this from recurring,” said Keating.
In a FAQ posted online about the outbreak, Cargill noted that they do not test for Salmonella Enteritidis: “This particular strain of Salmonella Enteritidis in beef has not been linked to a public health problem before, and no validated test for it in fresh beef is commercially available.”
Leading food safety expert David Theno, who helped Jack in the Box reform their practices after the historic 1993 E. coli O157:H7 outbreak, told Food Safety News that a regular Salmonella screen would have detected the strain. (Also, it appears that several companies, including DuPont, Roka Bioscience, Cell Biolabs, and BioControl offer relatively rapid testing technology for Salmonella Enteritidis in beef).
“We are not monitoring for Salmonella in beef,” said Michael Martin, director of communications for Cargill. “While it is not an adulterant in beef, Salmonella is monitored by USDA FSIS as part of its ground beef performance standards program. We believe that the food safety interventions we have in place at our beef processing facilities address pathogens that potentially pose human health risks from food borne illness.”
“The challenge remains the ubiquitous existence of naturally and randomly occurring bacteria throughout nature, and ensuring that adequate measures are in place to minimize the risk of food borne illness from these bacteria,” he said, adding that the strain of Salmonella associated with the outbreak is not antibiotic resistant.
Salmonella is not considered an adulterant in meat or poultry products, unless the products are tied to illnesses. In response to a foodborne illness outbreak, product is recalled, but it’s often after much of it is consumed.
Last summer, Cargill was embroiled in a 36 million pound recall of ground turkey for drug-resistant Salmonella — the largest Class I meat recall in history — several months after the government’s National Antimicrobial Monitoring System (NARMS) was detecting the same strain of Salmonella Heidelberg in retail turkey samples.
Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) reacted to the ground beef recall by calling for more funding for CDC, which would face an 11 percent budget cut next year under a proposal in the House.
“The weaknesses in our food safety system have once again become abundantly clear,” said DeLauro in a statement. Noting that a recall was not announced until more than a month after illnesses started spiking, the congresswoman called the recall “a clear indication of why we need to provide federal and state public health agencies, including the CDC, with the resources they need to prevent and quickly investigate outbreaks of foodborne illnesses.”