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Outbreak News

Lake County health officials say E. coli threat from tainted beef has passed

Health officials say suspect beef is gone

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Harlan Spector

Plain Dealer Reporter

An investigation of E. coli infections possibly linked to tainted ground beef has centered on two Cleveland-area restaurants, but health officials said Friday that they are confident there is no longer a threat to the public.

"Any meat from that lot is long gone," said Frank Kellogg of the Lake County General Health District.

Last week, his department inspected Deekers Side Tracks in Mentor after an illness was reported. In all, four cases have surfaced in the Cleveland area.

Two of the infections led investigators to the North Olmsted VFW, said the Cuyahoga County Board of Health. In addition, a 7-year-old Cleveland girl died Sunday from an E. coli infection that also may be linked to meat served at the VFW.

The exposures happened in early April. The outbreak led to a recall of nearly 100,000 pounds of ground beef by Valley Meats LLC of Coal Valley, Ill. The meat was not sold in grocery stores but was distributed to restaurants, the company said Friday.

Northern Haserot, a local distributor for Valley Meats, was working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture on the recall, said John Mannella, vice president of operations.

Manella said he didn't know how much of the recalled meat had been distributed locally.

Health officials said three of the people sickened with E. coli - a 3-year-old girl, a 24-year-old man and a 71-year-old man - were infected by a common source. But the infections have not been definitively linked to the ground beef.

It won't be known until next week whether the girl who died had the same type of E. coli as the other three. The girl's identity has not be released.

She was a student at Westpark Community Elementary School, a private charter school on Lorain Avenue in Cleveland.

School Principal Macey Baldizzi said in a statement Friday, "I want to thank all our Westpark Community Elementary families for supporting the school and being so very respectful of our one family during their time of loss. The family deserves privacy and they deserve the time to grieve."

Baldizzi declined to comment further. Valley Meats said in a statement that the 95,879 pounds of recalled ground beef was processed at the company's plant in March and sold to distributors in 11 states.

"It is believed that much of the product has already been consumed," the statement said.

The recalled meat was sold in 10-pound, 20-pound and 40-pound packages. Some of the product was sold under the brand names 3S, Grillmaster, J&B, Klub, Thick 'N Savory, and Ultimate. Some was sold with no specific brand name. E. coli can cause bloody diarrhea, dehydration and, in the most severe cases, kidney failure. Thorough cooking of meat kills the bacteria.

Dan Weist, commander of the VFW post in North Olmsted, said he was puzzled when health inspectors told him that the 3-year-old had gotten sick from breakfast served by the club.

"We haven't served breakfast here in four years," he said. Young children are usually not brought to the club, but Weist said it's possible someone brought the child carryout food. He said he didn't know of anyone getting sick until the health board contacted him.

"None of our members have been sick, and none of the guests of members that I'm aware of had complaints," Weist said.

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter: hspector@plaind.com, 216-999-4543

More on this outbreak: Valley Meats E. coli Outbreak

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