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It’s the 4th of July – Independence Day in the USA – and the national meal is burgers on the barbecue.

As they do every year, the USDA, FDA and various states have been urging the public to use meat thermometers in order to ensure that their burgers are cooked thoroughly. It’s ironic, therefore, that France has been experiencing an outbreak of E. coli O157 traced to contaminated ground beef.

On June 25th the Aquitaine Regional Health Agency (ARS Aquitaine) reported that three people were hospitalized in Bordeaux, suffering from hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). The three victims were children – a 2 1/2 year old girl, an eight year old girl, and a 14-year old boy. All three of the victims had consumed ground beef produced by the Société des viandes élaborées d’Estillac. The meat was sold in stores belonging to the Intermarché and Netto supermarket chains in the southwest part of France.

A fourth child – a four-year old boy – also had been hospitalized, but had not consumed any ground beef.

The manufacturer initiated a recall of the implicated meat on June 23rd, without waiting for the results of lab analysis of the ground beef. Unfortunately, the recall was not in time to prevent additional illnesses from developing.

As of July 3rd, France’s Institut de Veille Sanitaire (Institute for Health Surveillance) has received reports of eight cases of HUS and four cases of bloody diarrhea, all located in Aquitaine) and Poitou-Charentes. All of the outbreak patients live in the region where the recalled ground beef was sold. All of the eight HUS victims are children, ranging from 2 1/2 years old to 14 years of age. All eight HUS victims consumed ground beef in the period before becoming ill.

Six of the eight HUS victims and one patient with bloody diarrhea have been confirmed to be infected with E. coli O157; lab tests are still in progress on the remaining outbreak victims.

This outbreak is a cruel reminder that the risk of contracting E. coli O157 is not restricted by nationality or geography. When grilling your burgers on the barbecue, please remember to use a meat thermometer to ensure that the meat has reached a safe internal temperature of 160°F (that’s 71°C).

For more information on safe food handling, check out USDA’s Barbecue and Food Safety Fact Sheet.

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