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E. coli found in BJ's meat



(Original publication: July 17, 2002)

A second package of ground beef sold at BJ's Wholesale Club in West Nyack has tested positive for the deadly E. coli bacteria, health officials said yesterday.

As a result, the Massachusetts-based company is sending letters to 131 customers who bought the 90 percent-lean ground beef at the store between May 8 and 13 and warning them not to eat it, BJ's spokeswoman Nancy Sodano said. "We are voluntarily recalling this product because it may contain E. coli O157:H7," she said.

Customers can return the meat to the West Nyack store for a refund.

The company also has stores in Yorktown Heights and Paramus, N.J. But the voluntary recall is being limited to the West Nyack store, Sodano said.

That decision was made at the suggestion of the state Department of Agriculture and Markets, she said.

Officials from the department were unavailable for comment yesterday.

The Rockland Department of Health was told by state investigators Monday that a second package of meat bought at the West Nyack store on May 12 was contaminated with E. coli.

Genetic tests to see if the two positive findings came from the same strain of bacteria are not yet complete, Rockland Commissioner of Health Dr. Joan Facelle said yesterday.

"One would speculate that it is likely that it would be," she said.

The strain is not the same as the E. coli that sickened 24 Monsey residents — mostly children — between the middle of May and early June. The cause of that outbreak has not been discovered.

Local and state inspectors began investigating the BJ's in West Nyack early last month after a 6-year-old Orangeburg girl and her 11-year-old neighbor developed symptoms of food poisoning.

Both had eaten hamburgers at a family barbecue made from the same package of ground beef, which had been purchased May 12 at BJ's, the parents of both children said.

The 6-year-old became ill with hemolytic uremic syndrome. The condition, also called HUS, occurs when bacteria attack blood cells and damage the kidneys. She is recovering.

The strain of E. coli that makes people sick originates in the intestines of cattle and is passed to people through meat — often ground beef — that is undercooked. Once infected, that person can transmit the disease through person-to-person contact.

The second girl, who ate a hamburger at the home of the first victim, had severe cramps and diarrhea but recovered without hospitalization.

State officials tested the remains of the meat in the freezer of the 6-year-old's home and discovered it was contaminated with E. coli.

Four packages of meat chosen at random at the store June 7 were tested for the bacteria and all results were negative.

Because the meat was opened at the family's home and made into hamburger patties, investigators did not know if it had been infected with the bacteria before or after it was purchased.

Now, with the second finding in meat bought the same day, the answer seems clearer, Facelle said.

"It is less likely that it was infected out of the store," she said.

Orangeburg residents Richard and Joy Fojtlin called the Rockland Health Department earlier this month after discovering that they had a package of unopened ground beef purchased at BJ's on the same day as the meat eaten by the two girls.

"I pulled it out of the freezer and was just about to cook it for lunch when my wife told me not to," Richard Fojtlin recalled yesterday.

The couple has not been told if their meat was the second sample that tested positive, he said.

In 1999, BJ's recalled frozen beef patties and ground beef that was contaminated with E. coli. The meat was processed at Jac Pac Foods of Manchester, N.H.

Sodano said she was unsure if BJ's still buys meat from that company.

BJ's uses multiple meat processors and it is unclear where the recently infected beef came from, Sodano said.

Its main competitor, Sam's Club warehouse stores, announced Monday that it is recalling a batch of frozen beef patties sold under the Northern Plains name after the meat was found to be tainted with E. coli bacteria.

The patties were produced Feb. 22 at a Carneco Foods plant in Columbus, Neb. Carneco also announced the voluntary recall after a sample tested positive for E. coli O157:H7. No illnesses have been reported, Sam's Club said in a news release.

Sodano said BJ's does not buy meat from Carneco.

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