Officials in Montana say that malfunctioning equipment may have contaminated beef being processed, but the beef was identified and destroyed before leaving the plant. A water machine that is used to clean carcasses didn’t reach temperatures high enough to kill E. coli and other pathogens.
The ground beef was sampled in a weekly routine and was found to be contaminated. None of it shipped to consumers, according to the Meat Inspection Bureau. The name of the plant and the brand are not being released because no recall was issued.
Whole beef cuts are often contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 and other bacteria. The bacteria are then mixed throughout the product when the meat is ground into hamburger. That is why food safety experts tell consumers to cook hamburgers to well done, or 165°F as measured by a food thermometer.
Last year, a four state outbreak of E. coli O57:H7 linked to ground beef sickened at least 12 people in the U.S. The hospitalization rate for that outbreak was 58%; no deaths were reported. Wolverine Packing Company recalled almost 2 million pounds of ground beef products relating to that outbreak.
Most of those sickened in that outbreak said stye ate “hamburger prepared rare, medium rare, or ‘undercooked'” before becoming ill. Traceback investigations of the ground beef used at restaurants where some of those sickened ate identified Wolverine Packing Company as the source of the ground beef.