12 hospitalized in connection with E. coli in beef

WASHINGTON (AP) - At least 12 people, two of them suffering
kidney failure, have been hospitalized in connection with a
possible E. coli outbreak in beef suspected of having sickened
people in nine states, federal health officials said Wednesday.

The victims may have become ill after eating beef produced by
JBS Swift Beef Co. of Greeley, Colo., the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention reported. The number of people reported ill
so far is 23.

The company recalled about 380,000 pounds of beef on Sunday
after some illnesses were reported and a government investigation
showed a possible connection to the company's product. That recall
expanded a June 24 recall of just over 41,000 pounds.

The CDC said health officials in several states investigating
the strain of E. coli found that most ill persons had consumed
ground beef, and many reported that it was undercooked. Ground beef
with the strain of E. coli was obtained from the home of one person
infected.

"At least some of the illnesses appear to be associated with
products subject to these recalls," the CDC said in a statement on
its Web site.

The first reported illness began on April 2, according to the
CDC, and the last on June 13. Wisconsin and Michigan appear to be
the hardest hit by the outbreak so far, with six ill people in each
state identified by the CDC.

Other cases were reported in California, Maine, Minnesota, New
Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico and New York.

The CDC did not specify the states in which people were
hospitalized. The agency said that two of those who fell ill
suffered from hemolytic uremic syndrome, a type of kidney failure.

Kidney failure is found in the most severe cases of E.coli. In
less serious cases, the potentially deadly bacterium can cause
bloody diarrhea and dehydration.

The outbreak comes on the heels of a recall of Toll House
refrigerated cookie dough products and just before the 4th of July
holiday, when many Americans are preparing to grill hamburgers
outdoors.

Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a longtime critic of the food
safety system, said this week she is concerned it took too long for
JBS Swift to recall the meat. The beef was produced April 21,
according to the company and the Agriculture Department.

"It is deeply troubling that it has been over two months since
this meat was produced and only now are we learning that thousands
of Americans have potentially been exposed to E. coli-tainted
beef," said DeLauro, who heads the House subcommittee in charge of
Agriculture Department spending. "I urge the USDA to aggressively
and expeditiously investigate."

The department's Food Safety and Inspection Service initially
took a sample of the beef on May 21 that tested positive for the
strain, according to the agency. Because that beef did not enter
the food supply, officials did not urge a recall. A follow-up
investigation, including information from the illnesses reported,
prompted FSIS to go to the company and request the recall, an
agency spokesman said.

"Until recently, there was not adequate evidence suggesting a
link between this source material and illnesses," said FSIS
spokesman Brian Mabry.

In a statement, JBS Swift said it sold the meat as whole muscle
cuts and may have been ground by retailers who purchased it. Raw
ground beef is considered the highest risk to consumers.

As part of the recall, The Kroger Co. said earlier this week
that it is recalling packages of meat with "sell by" dates of
April 27 to June 1 in the Cincinnati-Dayton region that includes
northern Kentucky and southeastern Indiana; and in western
Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Illinois and eastern Missouri.
The company said the suspect beef was sold under its store brands
in more than a dozen states.

Kroger-owned Food 4 Less stores in the Chicago area, Fry's
stores in Arizona and Smith's stores in Arizona, Utah, and other
western states were also included in the recall.

Other grocery retailers are also affected, such as Scarborough,
Maine-based Hannaford Supermarkets and Quincy, Mass.-based Stop &
Shop. Hannaford has urged customers in Maine, Massachusetts, New
Hampshire, New York and Vermont to check freezers for the recalled
beef.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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