Illinois Department of Health Issues Advisory on Tainted Ground Beef

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. The Illinois Department of Public Health today issued a consumer advisory for ground beef purchased at B & G Foods of Galesburg between August 10 and 16, 2004 after the product was implicated in reports of bacterial illness in Illinois and visitors from Nevada.


Dr. Eric E. Whitaker, state public health director, said there have been two confirmed cases of E. coli 0157:H7 and four probable cases of the disease linked to undercooked ground beef served during a cookout at a Galesburg residence on Aug. 14, 2004 with family and friends from Illinois and Nevada. Two of the individuals required hospitalization, but have since been released and are recovering. Of the six individuals reporting illness, two are from Illinois and four are from Nevada.


Laboratory tests by the department have identified a particular strain of E. coli that is common between the two confirmed cases. A sample of ground beef from B & G Foods left over from the cookout has also tested positive for E. coli 0157:H7.


The owners of B & G Foods, 1890 N. Henderson St., have offered to provide a refund or exchange to customers who purchased ground beef at the store during the time period in question. The department of health, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Illinois Department of Agriculture are attempting to trace the distributor who sold the ground beef to B & G Foods.


The department has been working with the Knox County Health Department in investigating the outbreak.


While much of the ground beef purchased at the store between August 10 and 16 may have already been consumed, Whitaker said it was important to issue the consumer advisory in case people still had the suspect ground beef in their freezer.


He also noted people can lessen the possibility of E. coli illness by thoroughly cooking ground beef.


A digital instant-read thermometer should be used to ensure thorough cooking, Whitaker said. Ground beef should be cooked until a thermometer inserted into several parts of the patty, including the thickest part, reads at least 160 degrees. People who cook ground beef without using a thermometer can decrease their risk of illness by not eating ground beef patties that are still pink in the middle.


E. coli 0157:H7 causes severe, often bloody diarrhea and painful abdominal cramps. In some persons, particularly children younger than 5 years of age and the elderly, the infection can lead to hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which can result in kidney failure, stroke, seizures and death.


The organism can be found in the intestines of cattle and, when the animals are slaughtered, the meat can be contaminated by intestinal contents. When the meat is ground, fecal organisms can be mixed throughout the ground beef. These bacteria can survive freezing and cooking if the temperature does not reach 160 degrees. Work surfaces that come in contact with raw ground beef also should be thoroughly cleaned before using again.


The bacteria are present in the stools of infected persons and can be passed from one person to another if hygiene and hand washing habits are inadequate.


Over the past five years, an average of 235 cases a year of E. coli 0157:H7 have been reported in Illinois.


 Source: Illinois Department of Public Health