Beef from Fresno plant being recalled in California, 3 other states

Thousands of tons of ground beef packed this summer at a Fresno meat plant are being recalled in four states because of an outbreak of a drug-resistant salmonella strain in Colorado.

The recall, announced today by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, focuses on more than 825,000 pounds of ground beef processed at Beef Packers Inc. in June. The meat was shipped to retailers in California, Colorado, Utah and Arizona in June.

The USDA classified the recall as Class 1, or a high health risk. State health officials in Colorado report that 21 people were sickened last month by a strain of Salmonella called Newport that has been traced to ground beef originally shipped from the Fresno plant. Illnesses also have been reported in eight other states, Colorado officials said, but they did not identify those states.

The Newport strain of salmonella is resistant to several common antibiotics.

The Raley's and Save Mart grocery chains in Northern California said via Twitter that their stores do not carry the recalled meat.

Rebecca Hayne, a spokeswoman for Cargill Inc., which owns the Fresno plant, declined to identify any of the retailers to whom the beef was shipped. “We’re working with them very closely right now to make sure any of this product cannot be purchases by consumers,” Hayne said.

Customers are encouraged to contact their retailer to learn if their products are involved in the recall.

“We don’t believe there’s any left out there unless in someone’s freezer,” Hayne said. The recalled meat was produced between June 5 and June 23 and shipped with "use/freeze by" dates between June 23 and July 14.

All of the meat was shipped to retailers’ distribution centers in bulk lots of 60- or 80-pound cases, and then repackaged for shipment to individual stores.

“Those retailers can decide what they want to do with the meat,” Hayne said. “They can regrind it, make it into patties for retail sale or make it into meat loaf that’s prepared in the stores for sale.”

Hayne said it’s not yet known whether the contamination occurred at the Fresno plant, at a retail distribution center or at retail stores.

Brian Mabry, a spokesman for USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, said the lag between the outbreak of illness and recall of meat from the plant is because of the time it takes to investigate the likely source of the bacteria.

“If we’re talking about a hamburger, was the contamination from the bun, or from the meat, or from the tomato or from the lettuce?” Mabry said.

USDA and Colorado health officials used epidemiological and trace-back testing to link the Salmonella illnesses to fresh ground beef products.

Salmonella infections can cause diarrhea, abdominal cramps and fever within eight hours and three days of consuming contaminated products. Symptoms such as chills, headache, nausea and vomiting can last up to seven days.

The illness can be life-threatening for infants, elderly and people with weak immune systems.

Proper food handling and preparation can reduce the danger of salmonella. The USDA recommends ground beef be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit.