Public health officials say a Salmonella outbreak traced to ground beef from the world’s largest beef producer is technically over, but there is a continuing threat because unknowing consumers likely still have some of the implicated meat in their home freezers.

With 403 laboratory-confirmed patients across 30 states, the outbreak spanned at least five months, according to the final outbreak report posted March 22 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health officials did not confirm any deaths in relation to the outbreak, but a third of the outbreak victims had to be admitted to hospitals.

Investigators found the outbreak strain of Salmonella Newport in unopened packages of ground beef produced by JBS Tolleson Inc., part of the multi-national, megalithic JBS, which has its corporate headquarters in Brazil.

Public health labs reported to the CDC that the first patient confirmed in the outbreak became sick on Aug. 5, 2018, with the most recent having developed symptoms Feb. 8 this year. The patients ranged in age from less than 1 to 99 years old. Of 277 patients interviewed, 237 reported eating ground beef before becoming sick. 

“Also, several unrelated ill people ate ground beef at the same events or purchased ground beef at the same grocery store chains, suggesting that the contaminated food item was served or sold at those locations,” according to the CDC report.

“Officials in Arizona and Nevada collected opened and unopened packages of ground beef from ill people’s homes. Officials also collected unopened packages of ground beef from retail locations. The outbreak strain of Salmonella Newport was identified in the ground beef. . . . USDA-FSIS and state partners traced the source of the ground beef eaten by ill people in this outbreak to JBS Tolleson Inc.”

In relation to the outbreak, JBS officials recalled 6.9 million pounds of beef on Oct. 4, 2018, and then recalled an additional 5.2 million pounds on Dec. 4, 2018. The Recalled beef products were produced and packaged from July 26, 2018, through Sept. 7, 2018, and were shipped to retailers nationwide under many brand names.

All of the recalled beef has the establishment number “EST. 267” printed on the original packaging. However, state and federal officials are concerned people may have removed the beef from its original packaging, placing it in other containers in their home freezers.

Officials from the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service continue to urge consumers to discard ground beef they have on hand if they cannot determine with certainty whether it is part of the more than 12 million pounds subject to the recalls. 

“More than 100 retailers, including chain retail locations and local stores, sold the recalled beef,” according to federal officials.

“Visit the USDA-FSIS website for a list of stores and states where the recalled beef products were sold[PDF – 322 KB]. Stores are listed by state, in alphabetical order.”

Advice for consumers
FSIS advises all consumers to safely prepare their raw meat products, including fresh and frozen, and only consume ground beef that has been cooked to a temperature of 160 degrees F. Other cuts of beef should be cooked to a temperature of 145 degrees F and allowed to rest for at least 3 minutes. The only way to confirm that ground beef or other cuts of beef are cooked to a temperature high enough to kill harmful bacteria is to use a food thermometer that measures the internal temperature.

Food that is contaminated with Salmonella bacteria usually does not look, smell or taste spoiled. Anyone can become sick with a Salmonella infection, but infants, children, seniors and people with weakened immune systems are at higher risk of serious illness because their immune systems are fragile, according to the CDC.

Anyone who has eaten any of the recalled products and developed symptoms of Salmonella infection should seek medical attention. Sick people should tell their doctors about the possible exposure to Salmonella bacteria because special tests are necessary to diagnose salmonellosis. Salmonella infection symptoms can mimic other illnesses, frequently leading to misdiagnosis.

Symptoms of Salmonella infection can include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever within 12 to 72 hours after eating contaminated food. Otherwise healthy adults are usually sick for four to seven days. In some cases, however, diarrhea may be so severe that patients need to be hospitalized. 

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