130,000 pounds of ground beef recalled due to deadly E. coli outbreak

After a series of salmonella and E. coli outbreaks this summer, another contamination sickens American eaters.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Wednesday announced that Cargill— America’s largest private company, and among the largest meatpackers—is recalling 132,606 pounds of raw ground beef that the company believes may be contaminated with E. coli O26, a fairly uncommon strain.

The announcement, made on Tuesday, includes new information about the damage the bacteria has already wrought. The department’s Food Safety and Inspection Services (FSIS), along with other government agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), identified 17 illnesses, and one death, between July 5 and July 26.

Victims reported having consumed ground beef products purchased at various retail stores that were supplied by Cargill Meat Solutions. The beef was processed in the meatpacker’s Fort Morgan, Colorado facility, from contaminated carcasses.

Shoppers are urged to throw the beef away or return it to market.
The FSIS says that affected products were produced and packaged on June 21, 2018. You can see images of the affected labels here. Cargill was identified as the source of the outbreak as part of an investigation related to the recall of ground beef in Publix supermarkets that was announced on August 30.

You might remember Cargill’s Fort Morgan, Colorado plant from a different kind of news—about a group of Muslim workers who had sued over a prayer ban. Last week, those employees were awarded over $1.6 million in two settlements.

E.coli O26 is the strain that ravaged Chipotle customers across the country in 2015. Like the more common, and more vicious O157: H7, people infected with the strain can become ill within two to eight days—with an average of three to four days—of exposure to the organism. Infections, which can be diagnosed through a stool sample, can lead to diarrhea and vomiting. Children under five years old are at risk of developing hemolytic uremic syndrome, a type of kidney failure, that’s marked by easy bruising and pallor.

Cargill’s is the largest recall of ground beef since October 7, 2016, when Pennsylvania-based Silver Springs Farms recalled over 216,000 pounds of patties and deli meat due to possible contamination with O157:H7.

Infections can lead to diarrhea and vomiting.
While the affected products will no longer be on the market, FSIS says it is concerned about the ground beef that may still be in freezers in people’s homes. The agency urges shoppers to throw the beef away or return it to market, and as always, to eat only ground beef that’s been cooked to 160 degrees. (That’s the temperature at which bacteria is killed.)

Foodborne illness is no joke: Roughly 48 million Americans suffer every year, 128,000 are hospitalized, and as many as 3,000 people die. And the summer of 2018 was an especially tough one when it came to food poisoning. As many as seven outbreaks of salmonella were connected to products ranging from cereal to crackers to pasta salad.

In August, we reported on an outbreak of a different E. coli strain, found in romaine lettuce, that appeared to be related to an irrigation canal positioned near a Yuma, Arizona cattle operation. We’re still trying to get to the bottom of that. On Tuesday, food safety lawyer Bill Marler, who represents 87 people affected in the outbreak, filed his 12th lawsuit, alleging that a seizure suffered by a Fort Collins, Colorado resident may have been caused by the tainted lettuce.

An Arizona lawmaker disputes the finding that the feedlot could have been a source.

Correction: This story originally misidentified the location of a Cargill facility. The facility is located in Fort Morgan, Colorado, not Fort Collins, Colorado. 

Also tagged

Sam Bloch is a contributing writer for The Counter, where he covers business, environment and culture. He has also written for The New York Times, L.A. Weekly, Places Journal, Art in America and other publications, and is currently working on his first book, a work of narrative nonfiction about shade, for Random House.