Vermont E. coli Outbreak Originated in Ferrisburgh Slaughterhouse, Ground Beef Recall Issued

We have been reporting this week on an <"">E. coli outbreak in which 10 people were diagnosed with a food borne illness and one child was hospitalized.  The Vermont Department of Health issued two warnings against the consumption of undercooked meat in response to the growing E. coli infection that was initially thought to be linked to a single source of ground beef distributed to “a few restaurants in Vermont.”  Now, the contamination has been traced to the Vermont Livestock, Slaughter, and Processing Company located in Ferrisburgh, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) said.

In response, 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 subject to the recall was shipped in five-pound packages that are 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.

The contamination was discovered through a joint investigation with the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and the state Health Department in Vermont.  The USDA confirmed that 10 cases of E. coli 0157:H7 have occurred and the Health Department said the illnesses were attributed to consumption of undercooked ground beef.  Consumers with questions about the recall can call company manager Carl Cushing at 1-808-793-4742.

In the US, E. coli is the leading cause of food-borne illness, accounting for about 73,000 infections and 61 deaths annually; last year, over 22 million pounds of beef and vegetables were recalled due to E. coli outbreaks.  Worse, food borne contaminations are exacerbated with a food path that is difficult to police because the food-surveillance system is outdated, under-funded, and overwhelmed by the emergence of mega-farms, mega-distribution centers, and mega-transporters.

E. coli are a group of bacteria found in animal intestines and feces.  Some strains are necessary for digestion; some are harmful, even deadly, such as the O157:H7 strain that is generally found to be the culprit in E. coli-related food-borne illness outbreaks and is to blame in this outbreak.  O157:H7 is among those E. coli that may cause serious disease—such as fatal blood poisoning, cystitis, and deadly septicemia—and are in a group called Verocytotoxigenic E. coli (VTEC) that are linked to food poisoning.  VTECs can result in death.

Left untreated, E. coli toxicity can result in kidney damage and failure, said Deputy State Epidemiologist Susan 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,” she said. 

The Department of Health release stated that cooking ground meat beyond the pink stage is no guarantee that harmful bacteria have been killed and recommends using a thermometer to verify food has reached an internal temperature of 160 degrees.

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