By Sherwood Olin
Lincoln County News
One of the six confirmed cases of e coli infection in Maine has been traced to a nationwide recall of frozen ground beef products.
New Jersey based distributor Topps Meat Co. has recalled 21.7 million pounds of frozen beef due to potential e coli contamination.
According to a press release posted on the company’s website (www.toppsmeat.com/) the recall includes all Topps products with either a "sell by date" or a "best if used by date" between Sept. 25 2007 and Sept. 25, 2008. According to the statement, this information can be found on a package's back panel. All recalled products also have a USDA establishment number of EST 9748, which is on the back panel of the package and-or in the USDA legend
This is the first recall in the company’s 65-year history. Based on known consumption patterns, the Topps company believes that most of the recalled product has been consumed by now.
Locally, officials for both Hannaford and Shaw’s supermarkets confirmed that all Topps products have been pulled from their shelves. A spokesperson for Yellowfront Grocery Damariscotta said the locally owned store does not carry Topps products.
According to Maine state epidemiologist Dr. Kathleen Gensheimer, one case in Maine has been traced to Topps products. Topps products are believed to be responsible for 23 cases of infection in eight states.
Of the remaining five infections in Maine, one case has been traced to an outbreak in Washington State, Gensheimer said. In that instance, the e coli is such a generic strain that is complicating efforts to find a specific source, Gensheimer said.
Testing is still ongoing in the remaining four confirmed cases, Gensheimer said.
All six Maine cases are located in midcoast and central Maine.
Gensheimer said it is possible that there are other cases in Maine that have not been verified. It is possible that some affected individuals do not seek or require treatment, Gensheimer said.
“Fortunately, not everybody has been sick enough to seek medical care,” she said.
Nonetheless, the state Center for Disease Control is encouraging clinicians to draw samples from patients who they suspect have e coli related symptoms, Gensheimer said.
According to the national CDC website, humans generally become ill from e coli consumption two to eight days after being exposed to the bacteria. Infection often causes severe bloody diarrhea and abdominal cramps. There is usually little to no fever associated with infection and the illness usually passes in five to 10 days.
Antibiotic treatments are usually ineffective. In young people and the elderly, the disease can cause a condition known as hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) in which red blood cells are destroyed and the kidneys fail.
According to Gensheimer, e coli is the leading cause of renal failure in children.
Although ground beef is commonly associated with e coli contamination, the bacteria can also be passed through contaminated vegetables and fruit and person-to-person contact.
The e coli bacteria that causes illness in humans, Escherichia coli 0157:H7, is one of dozens of strains of Escherichia coli bacteria, most of which are harmless to humans.
Appropriate food preparation techniques, washing uncooked food and cooking meats thoroughly, and good human hygiene practices are both effective in containing the disease.
More information is available at the Maine Center for Disease Control website www.maine.gov/dhhs/boh/