The US Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has announced that Kroger-branded ground beef products sold in Michigan and parts of Ohio are being recalled due to suspected contamination with E. coli that has been linked with cases of foodborne illnesses reported in these states.

A recent update from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the state departments of health and agriculture in Michigan and Ohio, CDC, and FSIS are currently investigating an outbreak of Escherichia coli O157:H7 infections in the two states.

The CDC said that as of 5 pm EST on 24th June, there were 32 confirmed cases, linked both epidemiologically and by molecular fingerprinting. 15 of the cases are in Michigan and 17 are in Ohio. The illnesses have affected people aged from 4 to 78 years.

People starting feeling ill between 30th May and 11th June, and 14 of them have been admitted to hospital. No deaths have been reported, but one infected person has developed hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS), a type of kidney failure.

A UPI article said the FSIS announcement mentioned investigations have linked the outbreaks to ground beef products that have a Kroger label showing a sell by date between “05/21/08” and “06/08/08”.

According to Kroger, the recall affects all varieties, weights and sizes of ground beef bought in Kroger stores between 21st May and 8th June in Michigan and in central and northern Ohio (Columbus and Toledo). Neither FSIS nor Kroger have said how big the total amount of beef affected is.

On a Question and Answer page on their website, the company said the recall was a voluntary one in response to receiving notification from state and federal authorities about the illnesses reported in Michigan and parts of Ohio and the fact they have been linked to ground beef products sold in some Kroger stores in the affected regions.

The CDC update said that tests on ground beef recovered from the homes of the people infected and on ground beef products bought at Kroger stores in Michigan and Ohio found that the E. coli O157 strains in the ground beef were the same as those in the outbreak.

E. coli are a large and diverse group of bacteria, including many harmless strains. The types that make you sick includes E.coli O157:H7 (often shortened to E. coli O157).

Symptoms of infection vary from person to person but include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea (often bloody), and vomiting. The very young and the elderly, and people with weak immune systems tend to be more severely affected. If there is a fever it is usually not very high and most people get better within 5 to 7 days. Some infections are very mild, and occasionally more serious and even life-threatening.

The best way to protect yourself against foodborne illness is to handle, store and cook food properly, for example by keeping raw meat separate from cooked foods in the refrigerator and making sure your hands and all utensils have been washed with soap and warm water,and rinsed and dried with a clean cloth, before handling food.

The US Department of Agriculture recommends that ground beef is cooked at a minimum internal temperature of 160 deg F (71 deg C) because harmful bacteria are killed at this temperature.

The Kroger Co has its headquarters in in Cincinnati, Ohio, and is one of the largest grocery retailers in the US, with sales last year topping 70 billion dollars. The Kroger label covers one of its supermarket brands, although the company itself has many labels and formats from supermarkets through department stores to mall jewellery stores.

This latest recall from Kroger follows one earlier this month on 8th June when Dutch’s Meat, Inc, of Trenton, New Jersey, announced they were recalling over 13,000 pounds of ground beef products because they may be contaminated with E. coli discovered during a routine FSIS inspection. No illnesses were reported in connection with that recall.

Consumers with questions can get more information from Kroger on 800-632-6900.

Click here to read the full CDC update on this outbreak and more detailed information on how to protect yourself from foodborne illness.

Sources: FSIS, CDC, UPI, Kroger Co.

Written by: Catharine Paddock, PhD