E. coli illnesses in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Illinois have led health investigators to ground beef produced by Valley Meats, LLC of Coal Valley, IL. The company has initiated a recall of 95,898 pounds of ground beef product that is possibly contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.
“E. coli in ground beef has been so prevalent in the last two years that it’s estimated that the consumer has a one in 400 chance of buying a product that might make them very sick,” said food safety advocate and attorney William Marler. “In 2006, it seemed that the meat industry had gotten a handle on E. coli recalls, but with 41 million pounds recalled since then, that is clearly not the case.”
Many benign strains of E. coli (Escherichia coli) live in the intestinal tracts of humans and other mammals. Infection with one of the toxic strains, most notably E. coli O157:H7, can cause serious illness, organ failure, and even death. E. coli is often contracted by consuming food or beverage that has been contaminated by animal (especially cattle) manure. The majority of foodborne E. coli outbreaks has been traced to ground beef; however leafy vegetables, sprouts, unpasteurized dairy or juice products or even water can become tainted with the pathogen.
The first symptom of E. coli infection is the onset of abdominal pain and severe cramps, followed within 24 hours by diarrhea, often bloody. This is hemorrhagic colitis, and it typically occurs within 2 to 5 days of ingestion of E. coli; however the incubation period—the time between the ingestion of E. coli bacteria and the onset of illness—may be as broad as 1 to 10 days.
“If you’re experiencing these symptoms, it is critical to visit your healthcare provider, because an E. coli infection can make you very, very sick,” Marler continued. “In some instances E. coli infection can lead to hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a cause of acute kidney failure, so make sure you know what you’re dealing with.”