A week after Cargill Meat Solutions recall of 66 tons of ground beef, some concerns remain. Experts at Consumer Reports suggest tossing out any ground beef in your freezer purchased between June 21 and July 11 of this year “out of an abundance of caution.”

And a top food safety advocate in Congress, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-CT, is demanding more information from the USDA about the associated outbreak of E. coli O26, which has caused 18 illnesses and one death.

The recalled meat, produced at Cargill’s Fort Morgan, CO, facility, was sold nationally at retail outlets during the summer. None is currently being sold, but there’s concern some of the ground beef was likely purchased for future use and remains stored in both home and commercial freezers.

In a Sept. 26 letter to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, DeLauro demanded more information on the recall and outbreak investigation.

“I write today out of concern regarding the USDA’s investigation into the ongoing multistate outbreak of Escherichia coli O26, which has been linked to ground beef,” DeLauro wrote. “According to the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), the agency was notified of an investigation of E. coli O26 illnesses on Aug. 16, 2018.

“However, it was not until Aug. 30, 2018, that the first recall related to this outbreak was initiated by Publix Super Markets Inc.,” continued DeLauro. “At that time, according to FSIS, the source of the outbreak was ‘yet-to-be-determined.’ Then, twenty days later on Sept. 19, 2018, 132,606 pounds of ground beef products from Cargill, the apparent source of the outbreak, were finally recalled. In total, it was more than 35 days from when FSIS first learned of the outbreak when the traceback investigation was able to identify the source. Such a timeline is simply unacceptable and unnecessarily jeopardizes public health.”

In the letter, DeLauro tells Perdue that “prolonged traceback investigations are not just risks to consumer safety.” She cites USDA’s Economic Research Service’s work showing the negative consequences of food illness outbreaks and recalls in the food and agriculture business sectors.

DeLauro asked Perdue to respond to her questions about the timeline. She wants to know what FSIS knew by specific dates as the traceback investigation continued, such as when did the agency become aware the Publix Super Markets recalls involved Cargill.

Cargill’s Sept. 20 recall notice includes a product list of the specific brands and labels for consumers to use in checking their home or rental freezers. However, Consumer Reports (CR) issued its broader warning because some bulk purchasers likely repackaged the ground beef into units, not on the recall list.

“E coli O26 is quite serious, ” said James E. Rogers, CR’s director of food safety testing and research. “You don’t want to risk your health, or your family’s.” CR’s recommends tossing any ground beef stored in a freezer that was purchased between June 21 and July 11.

“If the meat has been repackaged, the brands and codes provided on the FSIS list so far won’t help consumers figure out if their purchase was part of this ground beef recall,” Rogers said. “This combined with the fact that people may take meat out of its packaging and wrap it themselves before they freeze it means many consumers may have no way of knowing if they purchased affected Cargill beef, or know the use-by date that was on the original package.”

Food Safety News previously published the entire recall list here.

The FSIS also warns that some recalled Cargill beef could be in people’s freezers and if so, it should be thrown out and not consumed.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, the recalled Cargill beef is associated with a four-state outbreak of E. coli O26 involving 18 illnesses and one death. In a Sept. 20 Food Safety Alert, the CDC said the multistate incident is probably over. Fifteen of the illnesses and the death were in Florida. Colorado, Tennessee, and Massachusetts each reported one O26 case.

FSIS has released a list of retail outlets that sold the Cargill beef.

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