Foreign veal being imported to the United States is contaminated with a rare E. coli strain and while the products have not yet made anyone sick, a public health alert has been issued.

Some  424 pounds of raw veal products imported from the Netherlands is likely  contaminated with the rare Non-O157 Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) O103.   USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has issued the public health alert.

vealcalf_406x250Dutch veal has been flooding the U.S. market since October 2016 when USDA gave the Netherlands full access to the American marketplace. Dutch veal exports this year  to the U.S.  could reach 22 million pounds, equal to almost half the U.S. production of about 48 million pounds a year. The discovery of the rare E. coli O103 in the Dutch veal is likely to increase pressure for retaliatory tariffs.

The raw boneless veal products were produced at Establishment 9EG, EKRO B.V., Netherlands, and imported by MRW Food Brokers Inc. in Owings Mills, MD. The product was derived from calves that were slaughtered on March 8 and 9, and further processed and packaged on March 9 and 13. In addition to issuing this alert, FSIS has directed its personnel to detain products covered by the alert.

Products subject to the alert and imported to the United States include:

  • Boxes of chilled “Boneless Veal Cap” with case code of Londbos05597422 and lot code 0001.
  • Boxes of chilled “Boneless Veal BHS” with case code of Londbos05597426 and lot code 0005.
  • Boxes of chilled “Boneless Veal Inside” with case code of Londbos05597439 and lot code 0006.
  • Boxes of chilled “Boned In Veal Rack Chop” with case code of SELEDEL05593535 and lot code 0012.

These items were shipped to a distributor, and then further distributed to restaurants and grocery stores in Florida and Massachusetts.  The contaminated foreign veal was discovered when an FSIS test of a sample of the imported raw intact veal products, specifically veal stew meat, tested positive for E. coli O103.

It’s not a two-way street for U.S. veal, which is blocked from the European Union because of a ban on hormones, which American producers see as bogus because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration prohibits hormones in veal production. Dutch veal production is six times larger than the U.S.

FSIS found the Dutch food safety system to be the “equivalent” of the U.S. System on March 4, 2016, and in October 2016 opened the U.S. market to Dutch slaughter facilities for the first time since the “Mad Cow” crisis of the 1990s. U.S. veal producers claim the Dutch veal industry benefits from domestic subsidies.

The U.S. has also investigated the possible use of banned animal drugs in Dutch veal production.

Non-O157 Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) outbreaks are rare, but tend to primarily be due to contaminated food and person-to-person transmission. Like E. coli O157:H7, non-O157 Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) is a potentially deadly bacterium that can cause dehydration, bloody diarrhea and abdominal cramps two to eight days after exposure to the organism.

While most people recover within a week, some develop a type of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). This condition can occur among persons of any age but is most common in children under 5-years old and older adults. It is marked by easy bruising, pallor, and decreased urine output. Persons who experience these symptoms should seek emergency medical care immediately.

Consumers who have purchased the veal products subject to the alert are urged not to consume them. These products should be thrown away or returned to the place of purchase.

According to the American Veal Association, the average veal farm in the U.S. has 200 to 225 animals. Milk-fed veal farms are clustered in big dairy states like New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Wisconsin. More than 50 percent of milk-fed veal calves are also known to be cared for by Mennonite or Amish farm families.