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Owasso beef linked to E. coli

by Kim Archer

Tulsa World, December 29, 2009

Some 248,000 pounds of beef products processed in an Owasso plant have been recalled after the U.S. Department of Agriculture determined that they are associated with an E. coli outbreak in six states, the agency said Monday.

In conjunction with the USDA, National Steak and Poultry voluntarily issued the recall "as a precautionary move to protect consumers," company officials said in a statement.

"The fact that this was the first recall in our company's nearly 30-year history serves as a testament to the diligence of our employees in doing their jobs and the concern they demonstrate every day for the safety of consumers who enjoy our products," officials said in the statement. "Our company's paramount concern is for the safety and health of consumers, and that's why we are working closely with the USDA to recall the products in question."

The E. coli outbreak — considered a Class 1 recall because the health risk is high — has sickened at least 19 people, said Arleen Porcell-Pharr, a spokeswoman for the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

She could not provide further information about the severity of the illnesses.

The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, working with the CDC and several state health departments, has determined that there is an "association between eating non-intact steaks (blade tenderized before further processing) and several of the illnesses," Porcell-Pharr wrote in an e-mail to the Tulsa World.

The privately held company processes and packs beef, poultry and pork.

The products are or have been sold to retailers such as Walmart and restaurants that include Applebee's and Camille's Sidewalk Cafe.

The recall did not include products shipped to retailers but is limited to products sold to Moe's, Carino's Italian Grill and KRM restaurants in Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, South Dakota and Washington state, National Steak and Poultry said.

KRM Restaurant Group is the parent company of 54th Street Grill & Bar, which operates 15 locations in Missouri, Kansas and Illinois.

National Steak and Poultry said the recalled beef was processed at its Owasso facility Oct. 12-14 and Oct. 21.

The USDA verified those dates, adding that source material for the company's chopped steak product produced Oct. 12 that had tested positive for E.coli O157:H7 had mingled with products produced on the other dates.

The company cuts and marinates its beef and chicken products. About 30 percent of the products processed at the Owasso plant are fully cooked, according to a 2002 Tulsa World article.

All the company's fully cooked products are held there until they are tested for harmful bacteria such as salmonella, listeria and E. coli, the article said.

"It has to be negative or it doesn't get shipped," David Albright, the company's CEO, said at the time.

Federal officials began investigating the E. coli outbreak Dec. 11, according to the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service. The Owasso plant's beef recall was issued Christmas Eve.

At that time, no details about specific restaurants or numbers of illnesses were spelled out in the news release.

Bill Marler, a Seattle-based food safety advocate and attorney, said that "when it involves E. coli O157:H7, just issuing a recall isn't remotely enough action to protect consumers."

"The recall was issued on a holiday, with illnesses across the country and only a vague reference to meat being shipped to restaurants nationwide," he said.

Federal agencies and the company "must know which restaurants it went to, and the public deserves to know, too."

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