Ground Beef

Avoid Getting Sick from Ground Meat

The outbreak of foodborne infections with E. coli O103, which has been linked to ground beef, is over (June 19, 2019) according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The illnesses have occurred in 10 states: Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee, and Virginia.

The outbreak was first announced in early April, with 72 people sickened in five states. As of June 19, 209 people were infected in 10 states. Twenty-nine were hospitalized, and fortunately no deaths were reported.

Symptoms of E. coli infection begin 3–4 days after swallowing the germ, and includes severe stomach cramps, diarrhea (often bloody), and vomiting, and usually lasts 5-7 days. If you have symptoms of an E. coli infection immediately talk to your healthcare provider.  Write down what you ate in the week before you started to get sick. Report your illness to Florida Health, Nassau County: (904)813-6100, Option 6.

People who have become ill reported eating ground beef in restaurants as well as ground beef bought at grocery stores. Many of them said they bought large packages (called chubs) of ground beef and used it to make dishes such as spaghetti sauce and sloppy joes.

On April 23 and 24, the Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service announced ground beef recalls from two companies that sold meat to restaurants and institutions because it may have been contaminated with E. coli O103. A total of 176,624 pounds of the meat were recalled.

But at this time, the CDC says that it has not identified a common supplier, distributor, or brand of ground beef that could explain the whole outbreak. Some of the people who became ill reported eating at a restaurant where investigators found a strain of the bacteria closely related to the outbreak strain in unopened packages of ground beef from K2D Foods, one of the two companies named. But the strain of E. coli found in samples of the beef from the other company—Grant Park Packing—was not closely related, according to the FSIS.

CDC food safety experts stress the importance of proper handling and cooking of the meat. Toxin-producing strains of bacteria like E. coli O103 are poisonous, and you don’t have to eat a lot of the bacteria to get sick.”

In this outbreak, 28 people have been hospitalized and two people have developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a serious condition that can lead to kidney failure and death.

Cooking ground beef to an internal temperature of 160° F will kill the bacteria, but you also have to make sure that you handle raw ground beef carefully.  There are a lot of opportunities for cross contamination. For example, let’s say you buy a large package of ground beef and split it into smaller packages when you get home, and that meat contains the kind of bacteria that can make you sick. You reach for the faucet to wash your hands. Washing removes the bacteria, but when you shut off the faucet, you may re-contaminate your hands. Then anything that you touch can become contaminated. It’s pretty easy to spread the bacteria around.”

In addition to properly cooking ground beef, follow these food safety steps:

  • Always thaw ground beef (and any meat) in the refrigerator, not on the counter.
  • Wash your hands and any kitchen equipment you used after handling raw meat with warm soapy water. Be careful not to touch the faucet with dirty hands. Use your elbow or a paper towel to turn it on. Be sure to wipe countertops down, too.
  • Put cooked leftovers in the fridge or freezer within 2 hours. If you’re making sauce or another dish with ground beef, don’t let it cool too long on the counter before putting it into containers and refrigerating or freezing.

 

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