UPDATE:  On Jan. 6, 2022, the USDA announced the recall of 28,356 pounds of ground beef, including Kroger-branded ground beef sold at Fred Meyer and QFC supermarkets, as well as products sold at Albertsons, Walmart, and WinCo grocery stores. The products all include the EST number 965 on their labels and were shipped to retail locations in Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.

Consumer Reports is advising the public to not eat a certain type of ground beef sold at Kroger and other supermarkets because independent testing has shown positive results for contamination with E. coli O157:H7.

The public alert comes after the organization tested a sample of ground beef sold under the Kroger brand, but the other products may be involved, according to the alert released Jan. 5.

The tested package of 93 percent lean ground beef is marked with an “Establishment” (EST) number of 965, representing the plant where the meat was processed, and a “use or freeze by date” of 1/11/2022.

There is concern that consumers may have unused portions of the ground beef in their homes because of its long shelf life when frozen. Anyone who has purchased the implicated ground beef is advised to throw it away immediately.

Stores that carry the ground beef include Fred Meyer, Harris Teeter, Ralphs, Dillons, and several other supermarkets. Stores under the Kroger banner are Kroger, Ralphs, Dillons, Smith’s, King Soopers, Fry’s, QFC, City Market, Owen’s, Jay C, Pay Less, Baker’s, Gerbes, Harris Teeter, Pick ‘n Save, Metro Market, Mariano’s

“The (U.S.) Department of Agriculture, which oversees meat safety, responded to CR’s findings, with a spokesperson saying the agency has ‘a zero-tolerance policy’ for 0157:H7 E. coli in ground beef,” according to the alert from Consumer Reports. “The spokesperson added that the agency was ‘continuing to investigate this situation to identify all possible associated products that may be adulterated and in commerce and will initiate action accordingly as soon as possible to protect public health.’ ”

As of the afternoon of Jan. 5 there had not been any recalls issued in relation to the implicated ground beef.

Kroger spokesperson Kristal Howard told CR that “Food safety is our top priority,” and said that the company has initiated an investigation and contacted the supplier.

Interstate Meat, the company that supplied the meat to Kroger, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“The most pressing concern is that consumers could have this ground beef in their freezer, and very cold temperatures don’t kill this bacteria,” said James E. Rogers, PhD, director of food safety testing and research at CR. “And there’s no way to tell if the ground beef contains the harmful bacteria by just looking at or smelling it.”

Consumer Report’s testing was part of a broader, ongoing effort to test ground meat purchased from several U.S. supermarkets. The contaminated ground beef was purchased by CR on Dec. 30, 2021, and was confirmed positive for E. coli O157:H7 after a series of tests.

“Ground meat is riskier than whole cuts of meat because it can be made from multiple animals — so if one carries E. coli, it can contaminate an entire batch,” Rogers said. “And in the grinding process, any bacteria present can get mixed throughout the meat. On steaks and roasts, the bacteria is likely to be on the outside of the cut, and so is more easily killed by cooking.”

About E. coli infections
Anyone who has eaten any of the implicated ground beef and developed symptoms of E. coli infection should seek medical attention and tell their doctor about their possible exposure to the bacteria. Specific tests are required to diagnose the infections, which can mimic other illnesses.

The symptoms of E. coli infections vary for each person but often include severe stomach cramps and diarrhea, which is often bloody. Some patients may also have a fever. Most patients recover within five to seven days. Others can develop severe or life-threatening symptoms and complications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

About 5 to 10 percent of those diagnosed with E. coli infections develop a potentially life-threatening kidney failure complication, known as a hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). Symptoms of HUS include fever, abdominal pain, feeling very tired, decreased frequency of urination, small unexplained bruises or bleeding, and pallor.

Many people with HUS recover within a few weeks, but some suffer permanent injuries or death. This condition can occur among people of any age but is most common in children younger than five years old because of their immature immune systems, older adults because of deteriorating immune systems, and people with compromised immune systems such as cancer patients.

People who experience HUS symptoms should immediately seek emergency medical care. People with HUS will likely be hospitalized because the condition can cause other serious and ongoing problems such as hypertension, chronic kidney disease, brain damage, and neurologic problems.

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