February 17, 2020

2014 Hamburger E. coli Outbreak Traced to Wolverine Packing

When 92 percent of E. coli O157:H7 outbreak patients in May 2014 told health investigators they had previously eaten a hamburger at a restaurant, it wasn’t long before USDA food safety officials and the CDC traced the cluster of dangerous illnesses in Michigan and Ohio to ground beef production at Detroit’s Wolverine Packing Company. On May 19, 2014, Wolverine Packing recalled 1.8 million pounds of ground beef that had been shipped to distributors, mostly for use in restaurants nationwide.

skylers hamburgerBy then, the E. coli outbreak had sickened a total of 12 individuals infected with the outbreak strains of E. coli O157:H7, including five people from Michigan and five from Ohio. Massachusetts and Missouri also were touched by the outbreak. Two victims suffered kidney failure and life-threatening hemolytic uremic syndrome, or HUS

Using classic E. coli traceback methodology, epidemiologists interviewed all 12 case patients. Eleven of them reported eating ground beef prepared as a hamburger at a restaurant before becoming ill. Of these 11 ill persons, 8 reported that they may have eaten the hamburger prepared rare, medium rare, or “undercooked.” So far, at least one outbreak victim has taken legal action against the meatpacker by filing a ground beef lawsuit.

It is a violation of federal food safety law for meatpackers to sell ground beef tainted with E. coli O157:H7, a pathogen that emits a potentially deadly toxin. E. coli organisms can survive the cooking process if the hamburger isn’t heated to at least 160 degrees. To avoid illness, consumers should not eat raw or undercooked ground beef, but that doesn’t relieve meatpackers from the responsibility of selling pure product. HUS from E. coli is particularly dangerous because it’s a disease that has long-term, negative health consequences and the acute power to take away a person’s life. Children five years old and under are most susceptible to HUS, which can cause stroke, seizures, heart damage and paralysis.

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