Ground beef recall throughout several restaurants in 4 states including Missouri
About 1.8 million pounds of ground beef products are being recalled because of possible E. coli contamination, according to federal food safety regulators.
The recall had public health officials once again reminding the public of the dangers of undercooked meat.
The beef products tainted with E. coli O157:H7 -- the source of at least 11 illnesses across four states including three hospitalizations -- were traced to Wolverine Packing Co., according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service.
The recalled ground beef products were produced from March 31 to April 18 and shipped to distributors for restaurant use throughout Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri and Ohio, federal officials said.
Executives with Wolverine Packing issued a statement Monday through a public relations firm.
It said, in part, that "while none of the Wolverine Packing product has tested positive for the pathogen implicated in this outbreak, the company felt it was prudent to take this voluntary recall action in response to the illnesses and initial outbreak investigation findings."
Company executives did not respond to calls for further comment.
Illness from E. coli O157:H7 -- a particular strain that releases toxins -- can be miserable, with severe abdominal cramps, bloody diarrhea and vomiting.
"If it's not controlled, it kills young children and the elderly," said Evangelyn Alocilja, a Michigan State University researcher who has helped develop sensors to rapidly detect and identify infectious agents.
In fact, it has been estimated that just 23 of the bacteria -- invisible to the naked eye even if they were clumped together -- can kill a human. In contrast, it takes 1,000 or more of a salmonella to do the same damage, she said.
Federal officials were alerted May 12 and have been working with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health officials. Federal staff will spot-check restaurants to make sure that any meat that could possibly be contaminated is removed so that it won't be served to consumers, a spokeswoman for the USDA said.
She said the USDA does not release a list of restaurants where the meat might have been shipped.
The USDA released a full list Monday of the recalled products, which have the establishment number "EST. 2574B" and will have a production date code in the format "Packing Nos: MM DD 14" between "03 31 14" and "04 18 14."
The meat would have passed its expiration date, but there is a concern that some of it might have been frozen, said Jennifer Holton, spokeswoman with the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development.
"It's hopeful that we won't see any more cases," Horton said.
The best way for consumers to reduce their risk is to avoid ordering undercooked burgers. Specifically, ask your server for a burger cooked to 160 degrees, said Ben Chapman, a food safety professor at North Carolina State University .
"If you just say 'medium well,' you might get 145 degrees or 170 degrees," Chapman said. "The protection for consumers is being specific and maybe looking like a nerd."
Most people recover from E. coli O157:H7 in five to seven days.
Federal inspectors noted that none of the potentially contaminated beef was shipped to the National School Lunch Program, the Department of Defense, or for catalog and online sales.
Contributing: Jolie Lee, USA TODAY Network
Safety tips for cooking meat:
The only way to be sure meat is cooked to kill all harmful bacteria is to use a thermometer to measure the internal temperature.
These temperatures are sufficient: ground beef 160 degrees Fahrenheit; fish 145 degrees; beef, pork and lamb chops/steaks/roasts 145 degrees with a three-minute rest time; poultry 165 degrees, and hot dogs 160 degrees or steaming hot.
To further reduce the risk of foodborne illness, the USDA offers these tips.
* Wash hands with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling raw meat and poultry.
* Wash cutting boards, dishes and utensils with hot, soapy water. Immediately clean up spills.
* Keep raw meat, including fish and poultry, away from food that will not be cooked.
* Use separate cutting boards for raw meat and cooked foods.
* Refrigerate raw meat and poultry within two hours after purchase or one hour if temperatures exceed 90 degrees F. Refrigerate cooked meat and poultry within two hours after cooking.
Consumers with food safety questions can call 888-674-6854, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays, or visit www.AskKaren.gov.