Announcing the recall yesterday (22 July), the US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) categorised the incident as class 1, which is used for products which present a “health hazard where there is a reasonable probability that the use of the product will cause serious, adverse health consequences or death”.
The recall concerns 14lb chub packages of 'Grand Beef Fine 85/15', which were sold wholesale and for further packaging, meaning they were repackaged and sold in consumer-size packages under different names.
“While the use-by date has passed and these products are no longer available for retail sale, FSIS and the company are concerned that some product may be frozen in consumers’ freezers. These products were produced on May 25, 2012, and were shipped to distribution centers in Connecticut, Maine and New York for further distribution,” said the FSIS recall notice.
FSIS has been investigating the multi-state Salmonella Enteritidis outbreak, which has hospitalised two people, since June. It said it established a link between Cargill products and illness in five patients using epidemiologic investigations and by tracing back, as well as in-store reviews.
Cargill Beef president John Keating said: "Food borne illnesses are unfortunate and we are sorry for anyone who became sick from eating ground beef we may have produced.
"Ensuring our beef products are safe is our highest priority and an investigation is underway to determine the source of Salmonella in the animals we purchased for harvest and any actions necessary to prevent this from recurring."
Salmonella infections can be life-threatening, especially to those with weak immune systems, such as infants, the elderly, and people with HIV infection or those undergoing chemotherapy. The most common manifestations are diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever within 12 to 72 hours. Additional symptoms may be chills, headache, nausea and vomiting that can last up to seven days.