This pesky E. Coli bacteria is getting on the nation's nerves, and in an effort to keep it off our plates, at least three major grocery market chains have recalled some of their ground beef packages because they could be contaminated with bacteria critter. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced last week that National Beef was recalling more than 60,000 pounds of beef after the Ohio Department of Agriculture found the bacteria during routine testing.

Winn-Dixie Stores Inc., Publix Super Markets Inc. and Kroger Co. announced the recalls mainly in the southeastern United States, and said they stem from problems at the National Beef Packaging Company in Dodge City, Kansas.

Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, South Carolina and Tennessee are the hardest hit by the recall, but the meat was sent to several distributors and could have been repackaged for consumers and sold nationwide. Yikes.

The meat also was distributed to meat packing companies in Detroit and Indianapolis and to Wal-Mart operations in Indiana, Pennsylvania and Wyoming, National Beef said.

Here's the skinny: At Kroger, the nation's largest traditional grocery store chain, the recalled products include ground chuck, ground beef patties, and meatballs and meat loaf made in the stores. Packages have "sell by" dates of July 29 through Aug. 12. At Publix, the products include meatballs, meat loaf, ground chuck patties, stuffed peppers, seasoned Salisbury steak and others with "sell by" dates of July 25 through Aug. 12. Winn-Dixie products include ground chuck and patties with "sell-by" label dates from July 31 to Aug. 12.

A spokesman for National Beef said the company has never had a problem with E. coli. It is checking processes and procedures in an effort to find the cause and prevent it from happening again.

Key things to do in avoiding E. Coli:
  • Wash your hands carefully with soap before you start cooking.
  • Cook ground beef until you see no pink anywhere.
  • Don't taste small bites of raw ground beef while you're cooking.
  • Don't put cooked hamburgers on a plate that had raw ground beef on it before.
  • Cook all hamburgers to at least 155°F. A meat thermometer can help you test your hamburgers.
  • Defrost meats in the refrigerator or the microwave. Don't let meat sit on the counter to defrost.
Healthy beef and dairy cattle may carry the E. coli germ in their intestines. The meat can get contaminated with the germ during the slaughtering process. When beef is ground up, the E. coli germs get mixed throughout the meat.

The most common way to get this infection is by eating contaminated food. You can be infected with the E. coli germ if you don't use a high temperature to cook your beef, or if you don't cook it long enough. When you eat undercooked beef, the germs go into your stomach and intestines.

The germ can also be passed from person to person in day care centers and nursing homes. If you have this infection and don't wash your hands well with soap after going to the bathroom, you can give the germ to other people when you touch things, especially food.

People who are infected with E. coli are very contagious. Children shouldn't go to a day care center until they have 2 negative stool cultures (proof that the infection is gone). Older people in nursing homes should stay in bed until 2 stool cultures are negative.

Written By Sy Kraft