Waukesha - A frozen beef supplier to Sam's Club stores throughout Wisconsin recalled nearly 500,000 pounds Wednesday after one customer in Waukesha County and four others in Minnesota got sick.
All the products bear the establishment number "EST. 245P" inside the USDA seal of inspection.
Wisconsin state health officials urged any recent Sam's Club customers who bought ground beef to check their freezers and return any Northern Plains-brand beef patties from the suspected shipment.
The frozen ground beef and beef patties were shipped to Sam's Club stores in Wisconsin and elsewhere in time for the Fourth of July holidays.
John Schaller, vice president of supplier Carneco Foods LLC, said the product packaged mostly in six-pound bags and 10-pound boxes is not likely on any stores shelves still, but he said it could still be sitting in consumers' freezers at home.
"If anybody has that, they should return it to Sam's," said Schaller, whose company produced the patties at a plant in Nebraska.
According to Wisconsin state health officials, one Waukesha County resident developed an E. coli infection after purchasing beef patties July 3 from a Sam's Club store in Waukesha.
John Archer, an epidemiologist for the state Department of Health and Family Services, said the consumer - whom Archer would not identify - developed symptoms July 8 but did not require hospitalization and has since recovered.
E. coli is a potentially deadly bacteria infection that can be avoided often by fully cooking meat. It is especially dangerous for children, senior citizens and others with weakened immune systems.
Symptoms usually begin within a few days, meaning that if someone ate a suspect hamburger during the Fourth of July holidays, the chance of being infected now is slim.
Officials said four cases in Minnesota also were associated with the outbreak traced to Sam's Club stores.
"That was the common thread between all the cases," said Donna Gilson, spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.
Officials at the Sam's Club store on Springdale Road in Waukesha referred questions to the corporate offices for Wal-Mart Stores Inc., parent company for Sam's Club. Officials at the Arkansas corporate headquarters could not be reached for comment.
Wisconsin state health officials said they were awaiting test results to confirm whether the E. coli case in Waukesha County originated from the same ground beef supply as the Minnesota cases. The consumer who became ill reported buying ground beef from the Sam's Club store in Waukesha.
Schaller, whose company is based in Oklahoma City, said an estimated 497,000 pounds of frozen beef was shipped to nine Sam's Club distribution sites, including one in Tomah, near La Crosse.
Schaller said the Wisconsin allocation was "proportional," suggesting that the Tomah center handled more than 50,000 pounds.
Company officials, he added, are investigating how the frozen beef might have been contaminated.
The voluntary recall was announced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Waukesha County health officials said they found no suspect packages of Northern Plains beef products on the shelves at the local Sam's Club.
Steve Korthof, county environmental health supervisor, said other consumers probably already cooked and ate the beef without any trouble, or they still have it in their freezers or refrigerators.
Korthof said local officials were awaiting word from state or federal authorities on whether other retail outlets should be checked. But that was before the recall was announced.
Gilson said the recall should get any remaining inventory out of public reach.
"It's kind of up to the stores to pull that off their shelves," she said. "Sam's Club has been very cooperative."
From the Aug. 5, 2004, editions of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel