An E-Coli outbreak that sickened at least 6 people visiting a Maine ski resort has been traced to contaminated ground beef produced at a Minnesota meat processing plant, authorities say.
"We have genetic fingerprints that link E-Coli 0157:H7 in samples of the meat from Rochester Meats to the patients in Maine who have become ill," says Beth Gaston, spokesman for the Agriculture Department's food safety and inspection office.
"We're looking into whether or not other states may be involved as well," adds Tom Skinner, a spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Rochester Meats Inc., of Rochester, Minn., last week recalled 170,780 pounds of ground beef, the equivalent of one day's production. The company supplies meat for restaurants and institutions across the United States.
Company officials said Monday that they were unaware of any link between their product and illnesses. "USDA has not confirmed that with us," said Rochester Meats spokeswoman Joanne Randen.
The recalled products include frozen ground beef patties, ground chuck patties, chopped beefsteak, beef patties, meat for chili, beef patty mix and pure beef bulk.
The meat was produced Dec. 1 and sold in 10-, 15- and 20-pound packages. They are marked with the Julian code 8335 and Establishment 8999 in the inspection mark.
Maine officials have uncovered seven E-Coli cases but the USDA has not yet confirmed that the seventh is a genetic match to the Rochester Meats outbreak.
Victims became ill while visiting the Sunday River Ski Resort in Bethel, Maine, says Dr. Kathleen Gensheimer, state epidemiologist for the Maine Department of Human Services.
The first case was reported Feb. 11, and three people had to be hospitalized. The entire group, which included four children, has since recovered.
Gensheimer says it is possible that other people became ill but did not seek medical attention. "You always have to assume that in any scenarioÂ… one is probably only receiving information on those who are seriously ill versus those who are mildly ill."
There are an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 cases of E-Coli 0157:H7 infection in the United States each year.
When ingested by humans, the E-Coli bacterium can cause serious illness and sometimes death, especially in children and the elderly. Symptoms include chills and bloody diarrhea.
The incident is the second meat borne outbreak in the country in recent months. Bil Mar Foods in Zeeland, Mich. recalled 15 million pounds of hot dogs and deli meats in December because of possible contamination with the microorganism Listeria.
Fifteen deaths and six miscarriages or stillbirths have been linked to the Bil Mar recall.