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E. coli suspicions prompt beef recalls

MERCED Calif. About 100,000 pounds of frozen hamburger from Richwood Meat Co. Inc. have been recalled after three children showed symptoms of E. coli contamination after eating burgers from sports concessions, according to press reports.

The meat was processed almost a year ago, but authorities apparently fear the patties may have been kept in the freezers of seasonal outlets that are just now opening. It was the second major E. coli-related recall of meat in three days.

The patties supplied by Richwood, based here, are distributed under a variety of product names, including as the in-house brand of C&C Distributing, according to local media stories. It was not clear how much of the meat might have moved into foodservice channels. The three children were reportedly sickened after buying burgers supplied by Richwood to Little League concession stands in St. Helena and Calistoga, in California's northern wine-growing regions.

The development follows the recall late Friday of 259,230 pounds of steaks and other muscle meat processed by Claysburg, Pa.-based HFX Corp, an affiliate of Hoss's Steak and Sea House Inc. HFX supplies its parent's 41-unit namesake restaurant chain, as well as other foodservice establishments and retailers.

The recall was announced after the Pennsylvania Department of Health determined that five people sickened in March by E. coli 0157:H7 had eaten steaks at one of four Hoss's outlets. PDH officials said some, if not all, had ordered their steaks cooked "rare" or "medium rare."

The Hoss's case is somewhat unique in that it involves steaks, rather than ground meat. Steaks and roasts are not commonly linked to E. coli incidents because such products are muscle meats and surfaces exposed to E. coli during processing or handling are likely to be killed during cooking. In comparison, ground beef is created by grinding and mixing together meat from several animals, which may introduce contamination throughout the product, making it less likely that all pathogens will be killed unless the product is cooked through thoroughly.

HFX said it would cease using three tenderizing processing techniques – blade tenderization, vacuum marination and marinade injection – because "they contain some level of risk" of contributing to contamination of muscle meats.

The processor issued the voluntary recall after being alerted by health officials and regulators of the possible link to its products and after a single a pathogen test detected the E. coli strain involved in sickening the consumers last month.

Because the number of cases reported to date has been small and the exposure period was several weeks ago, the PDH "believes the risk to Hoss's customers is low," a representative of the agency said.

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