More cases of E. coli linked to tainted ground beef have been confirmed in Vermont.

Last week we reported that 10 people had been diagnosed with a food borne illness and one child was hospitalized in a growing outbreak occurring in Vermont.  Now, Health officials are again warning Vermonters not to eat undercooked meat after a ninth person was confirmed to be ill with an <"">E. coli O157:H7 infection, all with exact DNA matches confirmed by the Vermont Department of Health Laboratory; a 10th suspected case has been reported.  The Vermont Department of Health issued two prior warnings against the consumption of undercooked meat in response to the growing E. coli infection that has been traced to the Vermont Livestock, Slaughter, and Processing Company located in Ferrisburgh, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) said.

“Our laboratory results tell us that each person became ill from the same source,” said Deputy State Epidemiologist Susan Schoenfeld. “And our epidemiology investigation has found that source to be ground beef that was contaminated before it was distributed to, prepared, and served at a few restaurants in Vermont.”

The Health Department has alerted health care providers in Vermont to be on alert for any new cases of E. coli and is also collaborating with the Vermont Agency of Agriculture and the USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) to further investigate product processing and distribution. Health Department inspectors are working with all of the restaurants involved.  Also, those involved restaurants have switched beef suppliers pending completion of the investigation; however, while the beef was not available in stores, there remains a possibility that distribution occurred beyond the identified restaurants.

“Fortunately, all of the people that we know of who were ill are recovering,” said Schoenfeld. “It’s important to remember that eating undercooked meat—as well as consuming raw milk products—is always a risk for E. coli and other bacteria that can cause severe illness, especially in young children, the elderly or people with serious medical conditions.”  The only recommended method for ensuring ground beef is cooked sufficiently to kill E. coli bacteria is to use a thermometer to check that the internal temperature is at 160 degrees Fahrenheit.  Color is not a reliable indicator that harmful bacteria have been killed and there is no test—other than laboratory testing—to confirm the E. coli status of produce and water, which have been the culprits in a variety of recent E. coli outbreaks.

In response to this outbreak, the USDA recalled over a ton of ground beef processed at the plant and distributed to restaurants, food services, and institutions in Vermont and Plattsburgh, New York, the USDA said.  The 2,758 pounds of ground beef was shipped in five-pound packages labeled VT BURGER CO GROUND BEEF and that bear the number EST 9558 inside the USDA mark of inspection with a lot code of 090508A, 090808A, 091208A, 091908A, or 092208A.  Also, the products were shipped two packages per box and were produced on September 5, 8, 12, 19, and 22.

In the US, E. coli is the leading cause of food-borne illness—73,000 infections and 61 deaths annually.  No surprise, the U.S. food path is difficult to police because the food-surveillance system is outdated, under-funded, and overwhelmed by the emergence of mega-farms, mega-distribution centers, and mega-transporters.

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