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Updated December 22, 2011

On December 20th, CDC reported that 16 people in Hawaii (1), Kentucky (1), Massachusetts (1), Maine (4), New Hampshire (4), New York (4), and Vermont (1) have been infected with the relatively uncommon outbreak strain of Salmonella Typhimurium. Illnesses began on or after October 8, 2011, with the most recent illness onset reported on or about December 3rd.

Most of the illnesses are linked to the consumption of store-ground hamburger meat purchased from Hannaford supermarkets. Hannaford is a regional chain located in the northeast USA, with stores throughout Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont. The implicated ground beef packages were purchased between October 12th and November 20th.

Given the geographic location of Hannaford’s stores, it’s logical that the Northeastern states should bear the brunt of this outbreak. But what about the cases in Kentucky and Hawaii?

I checked with the departments of health for both states. Other than the genetic similarity between the strains of Salmonella Typhimurium recovered from outbreak patients, there is nothing that connects either the Hawaii or the Kentucky victim to this outbreak. Neither one reported traveling to the US Northeast prior to becoming ill. And, while the Kentucky case is still being investigated, neither victim reported any obvious link to the outbreak, such as consuming ground beef in the week before becoming ill.

Epidemiologists have nightmares like this!

Of course, the explanation may be very simple. PFGE, the genetic profiling used as a first stage “genetic fingerprint” in outbreak investigations is not infallible. CDC has been working with a second genetic profiling tool, which has, in some recent outbreaks, found that a few apparently connected illnesses actually were due to different strains of the same microbe. It’s also possible that some other common link will be found, or that the Kentucky and Hawaii cases will prove to be simply coincidental.

Regardless of the explanation for the Kentucky and Hawaii oddball cases, CDC offers the following reminders to consumers:

  • Consumers should check their homes, including their freezers, for recalled ground beef products and not eat them; restaurant and food service operators should not serve it. Consumers with questions about recalled ground beef products may contact Hannaford’s Customer Information Center, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at telephone number (800) 213-9040, and choose option 6.
  • Wash hands, kitchen work surfaces, and utensils with soap and water immediately after they have been in contact with raw meat or poultry, including frozen and fresh ground beef. Then, disinfect the food contact surfaces using a freshly prepared solution of 1 tablespoon unscented liquid chlorine bleach to 1 gallon of water.
  • Cook ground beef thoroughly. Ground beef dishes should always be cooked to 160°F internal temperature as measured with a food thermometer; leftovers also should be reheated to 160°F. The color of cooked ground beef is not an indicator that product has been safely cooked. Only by using a food thermometer can one accurately determine that ground beef has reached a safe minimum internal temperature of 160°F throughout the product. Ground beef can remain pink even after cooking to a safe minimum internal temperature of 160°F. Be particularly careful with foods prepared for infants, older adults, and persons with impaired immune systems. For more information, please visit FoodSafety.gov.
  • If served undercooked ground beef in a restaurant, send it back to the kitchen for further cooking.
  • Avoid cross-contaminating other foods. Uncooked meats and ground beef should be kept separate from produce, cooked foods, and ready-to-eat foods. Do not wash raw meat or poultry before cooking because splashing water can spread any pathogens present on raw meat surfaces to other kitchen surfaces. Hands, cutting boards, counters, knives, and other utensils should be washed thoroughly after touching uncooked foods. Hands should be washed before handling food, and between handling different food items.
  • Refrigerate raw and cooked meat and poultry within 2 hours after purchase (1 hour if temperatures exceed 90°F). Refrigerate cooked meat and poultry within 2 hours after cooking. Refrigerators should be set to maintain a temperature of 40°F or below.
  • Persons who think they might have become ill from eating possibly contaminated ground beef should consult their health care providers. Infants, older adults, and persons with impaired immune systems are more likely than others to develop severe illness.

Original Story (posted December 16, 2011)

Fourteen people in the US northeast have been infected with a strain of antibiotic-resistant Salmonella Typhimurium. Eleven of the 14 victims reported having eaten ground beef; in ten cases, the beef was purchased at a Hannaford store. Seven of the 14 victims (50%) were hospitalized.

Three illnesses were reported in New Hampshire. Other outbreak victims are from Maine (4), New York State (4) and Vermont (1). Three of the four New York State victims were among the seven who were hospitalized.

The outbreak has been traced epidemiologically to fresh in-store ground beef prepared in and purchased at Hannaford stores in Maine, New York, New Hampshire and Vermont between October 12 and November 20, 2011. The 85% ground beef was the most common variety associated with the outbreak.

Hannaford has recalled the following ground beef products (all package sizes) bearing Sell-by dates of Dec. 17, 2011 or earlier that were sold at the supermarket’s stores throughout Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont:

  • 73% Hannaford Regular Ground Beef
  • 75% Hannaford Regular Ground Beef
  • 80% Hannaford Regular Ground Beef
  • 85% Hannaford Regular Ground Beef
  • 90% Hannaford Regular Ground Beef
  • 80% Taste of Inspirations Angus Ground Beef
  • 85% Taste of Inspirations Angus Ground Beef
  • 90% Taste of Inspirations Angus Ground Beef
  • 85% Nature’s Place Ground Beef
  • 90% Nature’s Place Ground Beef

USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has not been able to identify the suppliers who furnished Hannaford with the raw meat that was used to prepare the recalled ground beef, due to what the agency described as the retailer’s “limited records.” The possibility exists that raw beef contaminated with the Salmonella outbreak strain may also have been supplied to other retailers in the region.

Consumers who purchased ground beef from a Hannaford Supermarket should check their refrigerators and freezers for the recalled product. Hannaford is urging its customers to discard or return any packages of ground beef bearing a sell-by date of Dec. 17, 2011 or earlier. Anyone experiencing symptoms of salmonellosis should seek medical attention.

FSIS reminds consumers to “safely prepare their raw meat products, including fresh and frozen, and only consume ground beef that has been cooked to a temperature of 160° F.”