Modesto-based Valley Meat Co. moved to recall about a million pounds of ground beef products Friday possibly contaminated with E. coli after seven people were sickened with the bacteria.
The beef patties and ground beef in question were produced from Oct. 2, 2009, to Jan. 12, 2010, and were sold in California, Texas, Oregon, Arizona and internationally.
"Because most of the products are sold frozen, we are working with our retailers to remove the affected products from grocery store shelves and to encourage consumers to dispose of products they may have at home or return to the place of purchase for a full refund," the company said in a statement.
Valley Meat Co. is being assisted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service.
That agency became aware of the problem July 15 when it was notified by the state Department of Public Health that six people became ill with a rare strain of small E. coli between April 8 and June 18. Another patient from February was added to that list.
The agencies did not identify the people, where they live or where they might have eaten the tainted beef.
E. coli is a potentially deadly bacteria that can cause bloody diarrhea, dehydration and, in the most severe cases, kidney failure or brain damage, according to the USDA. The very young, seniors and persons with weak immune systems are the most susceptible to food-borne illness. Individuals concerned about an illness should contact a health care provider.
Valley Meat Co. spokeswoman Brooke Burgess said the company, established in 1959, sells wholesale products to distributors that sell to retailers and other outlets. She declined to publicly release a list of distributors.
"We aren't authorized by our customers to share that list, but we are working closely with them and the USDA to track and remove all the products subject to the recall from store shelves," Burgess said.
The USDA likely would have a list of retailers available in three to 10 working days, department spokesman Neil Gaffney said.
Dating back to January
Save Mart officials said Friday that its FoodMaxx stores have been asked to look into their beef products, but it's not likely the products are still on store shelves because the affected meat dates back to at least mid-January. Health officials said it's highly unlikely many customers still have the meat products in their freezers.
The company said all products under recall bear the establishment number "EST. 8268" inside the USDA mark of inspection as well as a five-digit signifying the date they were produced.
The affected 2009 products will carry a number between 275 and 365 before the "09" ending. The affected 2010 products will carry a number between 001 and 012 before the "10" ending.
The company's headquarters is on Daly Avenue in a 156,000-square-foot building south of Yosemite Boulevard and just north of the Modesto Airport. According to its Web site, the company's products are distributed to three major segments in the food industry: retail, food service and the military. It produces beef, pork and poultry.
"This is the first recall in our history and we will investigate the matter thoroughly and take any measures deemed necessary to further elevate our safety standards, protect consumers, and ensure confidence in our products," Valley Meat Co. said in its statement.
It is the second instance this year of E. coli contaminated beef with a Modesto connection.
In April, after tainted hamburger was bought and discovered at the WinCo Foods store in Modesto, the company recalled all ground beef sold at its 70 stores in California, Nevada, Idaho, Washington, Oregon and Utah. Government health officials eventually traced the source of the bad beef to WinCo's suppliers.
Consumers with additional questions about Valley Meat Co. should call 866-221-6474.
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