Georgia E. coli Outbreak May be Linked to Beef Served at Barbeque Pit Restaurant

Georgia health officials believe they may have found another link to the growing <"">E. coli outbreak in Colquitt County.  The number of confirmed E. coli cases has risen to six and lab results received late Thursday by the disease team indicate ground beef may be the link in several E. coli cases and illnesses related to E. coli.

Also on Thursday, the Barbeque Pit Steak and Seafood Restaurant in Moultrie agreed to shut down once it learned that all of the patients stricken with E. coli recently ate there.  Health officials say they are comparing the local strain of E. coli against the strain in the recent Ohio and Michigan outbreaks where a USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) investigation at two processing plants that collaborated with Nebraska Beef revealed E. coli contamination occurred because some production practices took place under “insanitary” conditions insufficient to prevent E. coli bacteria.  The tainted Nebraska Beef meat is responsible for at least 41 illnesses and dozens of hospitalizations to consumers in Michigan and Ohio.

Last week, health officials in Georgia called for reinforcements to help track down the E. coli source.  “This appears to be a cluster of E. coli 0157, which is one of the most commonly identified disease-causing groups of this bacteria in the United States.  Public Health became involved after healthcare providers noticed a number of patients were experiencing similar symptoms,” Southwest Georgia Public Health District Deputy Director Brenda Greene said.  “The investigation is ongoing and we are doing everything we can to find out as quickly as possible what is behind the cluster of illnesses.”

Escherichia coli strain 0157:H7 is particularly virulent and can cause fatal blood poisoning, cystitis, and deadly septicemia.  In the US, E. coli is the leading cause of food-borne illness and about 73,000 people are infected and 61 people die from E. coli annually; last year, over 22 million pounds of beef and vegetables were recalled due to outbreaks.  Symptoms of E. coli 0157:H7 illness include possibly severe stomach cramps, vomiting, often-bloody diarrhea, dehydration, and fever.  Scientists have expressed concern that infections from antibiotic resistant E. coli are spreading and emerging data confirms the negative health effects of E. coli can remain for months and years; can have long-term, lasting effects; and can appear months or years after the original illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that for every incident of E. coli reported, 20 go unreported.

Nebraska Beef expanded its voluntary recall to include all 5.3 million pounds of meat produced for ground beef between May 16 and June 26.  In 2003, the USDA went to court to try to shut down Nebraska Beef’s Omaha packing plant after citing it for numerous violations.  Three years later, Minnesota public health and USDA officials linked an E. coli 0157:H7 outbreak in ground beef that killed a Minnesota woman to Nebraska Beef.  The recent Nebraska Beef recall follows the June 25 recall by Kroger Company.

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