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Beef recall expands to 1.4 million pounds

/ Source: The Associated Press

A review of Nebraska Beef Ltd.'s records prompted Thursday's recall expansion because USDA investigators determined the company's practices couldn't effectively control E. coli bacteria on June 24.

About 1.36 million pounds of beef is now included in the recall that began Aug. 8 after the company's meat was linked to an E. coli outbreak in 10 states and Canada.

The initial announcement recalled 1.2 million pounds of beef produced on June 17, June 24 and July 8.

Nebraska Beef's products involved in the current recall have been linked to 27 illnesses in Canada, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

Last month, Nebraska Beef recalled 5.3 million pounds of meat intended for ground beef because of a different E. coli outbreak. After that recall, federal officials said they were satisfied the company was operating safely.

Equipment not cleaned

Nebraska Beef spokesman Bill Lamson said consumers shouldn't read too much into the fact that the company has had two recalls this summer.

"I don't think this is any indication of a trend," Lamson said.

U.S. Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Laura Reiser said investigators decided that 160,000 pounds of meat should be added to the current recall after examining the June 24 records for the Omaha plant.

Most of the meat produced that day was included in the Aug. 8 recall announcement, but the company initially omitted some meat produced later in the day after it switched to a different product.

Reiser said the company did not clean its equipment enough between products on June 24 to ensure the meat produced later in the day was safe.

The Nebraska Beef plant continues to produce beef while the recall progresses, and Lamson said the plant is still operating at full capacity. He said he didn't know if the company had lost any customers since the first recall was announced.

"We've taken a lot of steps to ensure that that plant is safe for food," Lamson said.

Reiser said USDA officials continue to investigate as part of an effort to determine the extent of the problems at the plant.

The large cuts of beef covered by this latest recall — "primal cuts, subprimal cuts and boxed beef" — are typically used for steaks and roasts, but at least some of those cuts from Nebraska Beef were used for ground beef. Typical primal cuts of beef are the flank, loin, rib, chuck and round cuts.

Lamson said the boxes Nebraska Beef's primal cuts are shipped in all include labels declaring the meat is not meant for use in ground beef.

In July, the meat involved in Nebraska Beef's larger first recall was been linked to at least 49 cases of E. coli, but that was a different strain of E. coli 0157:H7 than the one tied to the current recall.

The company's July recall covered all beef trimmings and other products intended for use in ground beef that were produced between May 16 and June 26.

The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service said in a July statement that it concluded Nebraska Beef's production practices were insufficient to effectively control E. coli bacteria between May 16 and June 26.

Reiser said those July comments about the plant's failure to control E. coli referred specifically to meat Nebraska Beef produced for use in ground beef, not its production of large cuts of meat intended for steaks, roasts and other uses.

Most of the recalled meat was sold to companies that planned to further process the meat, so it may be difficult for consumers to determine whether they have any of the recalled meat without checking with their retailers.

2,000 cattle slaughtered daily

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said last week's recall notice should have said some of the meat was shipped in containers with Nebraska Beef's establishment number "EST. 19336" and the company name. Reiser said those packages of meat were included in the 1.2 million pounds Nebraska Beef recalled from its customers even though the agency omitted them from its news release.

Privately held Nebraska Beef already faces several lawsuits related to the earlier E. coli outbreak and recall. The company slaughters about 2,000 head of cattle a day and employs about 800 people in Omaha.

The USDA said in its release Thursday that it wanted to be sure consumers understand that this recall covers only products made by the company Nebraska Beef Ltd. and not all beef produced in the state of Nebraska.

Cooking ground beef to an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees should kill E. coli bacteria, if they are present. The USDA recommends that people use meat thermometers to verify they have cooked meat thoroughly.

The CDC estimates that the E. coli 0157:H7 variant sickens about 73,000 people and kills 61 each year in the United States. Most of those who die have weak immune systems, such as the elderly or very young.

Symptoms of E. coli infection include stomach cramps and diarrhea that may turn bloody within one to three days.