A California food company is recalling 153,630 pounds of frozen ground beef after an E. coli outbreak shut down a Boy Scout camp in Virginia this week and sickened at least 22 people, health officials said Thursday.
The meat from Azusa-based S&S Foods was intended for institutional use and food service companies, which normally supply restaurants, and wasn't sold at the retail level. Before the recall, the beef was shipped to distribution centers in Milwaukee and Allentown, Pa., according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The link to beef was discovered through an investigation by the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service and the Virginia Department of Health.
USDA spokeswoman Laura Reiser said that the department didn't know how the meat became infected and that it would be following up with S&S Foods about the source of the beef and the company's food safety measures.
At least 73 people who attended the popular camp at Goshen Scout Reservation in the Blue Ridge Mountains have reported falling ill, Virginia officials said. So far, the E. coli infection has been confirmed in one adult from Maryland and 21 children from Virginia. Eight were hospitalized.
The outbreak began between July 20 and July 26, and may have continued into the next week, health officials said.
The first week, 1,647 scouts, leaders and staff members attended the camp, with 1,310 participants the next week, according to the National Capital Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America. Boy Scout officials closed the camp Sunday.
Since spring 2007, more than 19,500 tons of E. coli-tainted beef have been recalled in more than 30 separate incidents, according to Seattle attorney and food safety expert William D. Marler.
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health announced Monday that it was investigating six cases of E. coli that might be linked to a multi-state outbreak involving tainted meat from Nebraska Beef of Omaha. So far, at least 50 people have been sickened.
"Nobody I've talked to has any idea why we're seeing an increase, though everybody has a different theory," Marler said. "The meat industry basically has no answers. It's pretty frustrating -- there'll be some hand-wringing, a bunch of lawsuits and nothing will be done until three months later, when it all happens again."
Jeff Grohs, S&S Foods' vice president of business development, said in an e-mailed statement that the company was working "diligently to correct the situation" and to "determine whether illnesses in Virginia are connected to our operations or have some other original source or cause."
The company's parent, Idaho-based CTI Foods, has supplied precooked, frozen and fresh food products to major restaurant chains such as Taco Bell and Quiznos. In addition to S&S, CTI also operates facilities in Idaho and Texas.
The recall involves 1-pound bricks of beef that were packed into 30-pound boxes labeled with EST. 20375 inside the USDA mark of inspection. The side of each box has a printed case code beginning with 06238.
The E. coli O157:H7 strain can cause bloody diarrhea, dehydration and kidney failure and can lead to serious illness or death. Children, the elderly and people with weak immune systems are most susceptible to food-borne illnesses, according to the USDA.
Separately, Tyson Foods Inc. said Thursday that it was recalling 51,360 pounds of uncooked chicken because of a soy-based allergen that wasn't named on the label. No connected illnesses have been reported.
The meat was sent to food service companies in 29 states, including California, and was produced at Tyson's Vicksburg, Miss., location between July 23 and Aug. 5.