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Restaurant chains react to beef recall

WASHINGTON Moe’s Southwest Grill and Carino’s Italian, two of at least three restaurant chains associated with a recall of 124 tons of beef products in connection with a multi-state E. coli outbreak, said they have pulled the meat in question and have received no reports of related illnesses.

Athird chain believed to have received some of the recalled beef, the 15-unit Kansas City, Mo.–based 54th Street Grill & Bar, did not return calls seeking comment. As of Jan. 2, the chain’s owner, KRM Inc., not issued any statements about the system’s involvement, if any, in the recall.

The recall involves beef that was mechanically tenderized during processing, marking at least the second time in the past two years that such a product has been implicated in an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak.

“We take the safety and wholesomeness of our products very seriously,” said a statement by National Steak and Poultry, the Owasso, Okla., the supplier involved in the recall. “This is the first recall in our company’s nearly 30-year history. Given our long history of focusing on product safety and our standards of excellence, we will error on the side of being cautious with this recall.”

Twelve of the 21 recalled products were packaged under the National Steak and Poultry label, but the other nine bear private-label brands for the restaurants under the Carino’s, KRM or Moe’s labels.

Aspokeswoman for the nearly 400-unit Moe’s Southwest Grill chain, which is owned by Atlanta-based Focus Brands Inc., said that no Moe’s restaurants were associated with the outbreak and that all of Moe’s steak tested at National Steak and Poultry produced negative results for E. coli.

“As a proactive, precautionary measure we asked the locations potentially associated with the recall to follow the appropriate safety procedures and destroy the steak produced during a timeframe identified by NSP,” said Lauren McGowen Barash, public relations manager at Focus Brands. “At Moe’s the safety and welfare of our customers and our employees is always our number one priority.”

Fired Up Inc. of Austin, Texas, parent of the 136-unit Carino’s Italian chain, said in a Dec. 31 statement that Carino’s took immediate steps and followed the appropriate safety procedures in the removal and disposal of all potentially affected meat products as soon as NSP notified the company of the recall.

“Food safety, as well as the health and wellbeing of our guests and employees, are our number one priority,” said Warren Chang, Fired Up president. “We are actively monitoring this situation and participating with NSP's and USDA's ongoing investigation of this recall."

To date, Carino's Italian said it has not been notified of any illnesses associated with the one steak product provided by NSP. The chain said the recalled steak product that has been associated with Carino's Italian was used in limited-time offers and is no longer being offered, and it added that none of the products that were supplied to Carino's Italian tested positive for any contamination.

"We assure our guests that Carino's Italian has one of the strictest quality control procedures in the industry and we only use ingredients of the highest quality in our dishes,” Chang added. “We stand by the food we serve.”

The involvement of any other restaurant chains in the Dec. 24 recall of multiple National Steak and Poultry products was unclear at press time, as U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety & Inspection Service officials had yet to identify any of the companies supplied by NSP.

At the same time, the number of people sickened in the E. coli outbreak and the number of states in which people were sickened was unclear, as well.

No official reports of the number of people sickened had been released by federal officials as of Jan. 2, though FSIS sources had said Dec. 24 that illnesses associated with NSP products had been investigated in six states.

The Tulsa World, citing a spokeswoman from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reported Dec. 29 that the E. coli O157:H7 outbreak had sickened at least 19 people.

ADec. 29 Washington Post story, citing unspecified USDA sources, reported that nine of 21 people sickened in 16 states had been hospitalized. USDA representatives said later that the agency had not confirmed those numbers for the Post.

The FSIS has said it became aware that some National Steak and Poultry products might be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 while investigating a cluster of E. coli illnesses that were associated with non-intact steaks, or steaks that were blade-tenderized prior to further processing. To date, the investigation in conjunction with the CDC and multiple state health agencies has involved illnesses in Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, South Dakota and Washington, FSIS officials said.

Afull list of the products being voluntarily recalled by National Steak and Poultry can be found here.

In addition to the case codes cited in that notice, the recalled products all bear on their packaging a label with the establishment number “EST. 6010T” inside the USDA mark and packaging dates of 10/12/2009, 10/13/2009, 10/14/2009 and 10/21/2009.

FSIS has given the National Steak and Poultry recall a “Class 1” rating, meaning they have determined that there is a reasonable probability that the use of the products in question will cause “serious, adverse health consequences or death.”

Companies or consumers with questions about the recall may contact National Steak and Poultry at (866) 439-7348.

Among other products, the recall covers certain 4-, 6-, 7-, 8- and 9-ounce boneless sirloin steaks; 5-ounce bacon-wrapped beef fillets; boneless beef and “savory sirloin” tips; beef shoulder “marinated tender medallions”; beef trimmings; sirloin “Philly Steak” cuts; 8-ounce outside skirt steaks and skirt steak pieces; and 7- and 9-ounce sirloin tri-tip steaks.

Steaks and other non-ground beef products are less frequently implicated in E. coli illness outbreaks than ground beef because their denser structure tends to limit pathogens to surface areas where they are more readily killed off by simple exterior charring or cooking that leaves the center rare. However, if pathogens such as E. coli are introduced to steaks and other non-ground cuts during or after slicing, stabbing or injection tenderizing, they may penetrate such meats deeply enough to survive after all but the most thorough cooking processes and cause illness.

In a similar episode in April 2007, Hoss’s Steak and Sea House Inc., through its affiliated HFX Corp. meat processing company, recalled 129 tons of steaks or other muscle meats processed for foodservice and retailers because of links to cases of E. coli illness among five patrons of four of its 41 restaurants.

Clayberg, Pa.-based HFX said it would cease 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.

E. coli O157:H7 is a potentially deadly bacterium that can cause diarrhea, dehydration and, in the most severe cases, kidney failure. Children, senior citizens and others with weakened immune systems are the most susceptible to serious complications from contact.

Contact Alan Liddle at [email protected].

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