Illness in wake of hamburger recall

Nicole Nancarrow of Turlock was among several people with concerns in the wake of the ground beef recall at the WinCo discount food store in Modesto.

She said she bought two packages of hamburger April 3 at WinCo Foods on Plaza Parkway and cooked half the meat to make spaghetti Monday afternoon. Since eating the spaghetti, her children have stomach pain and diarrhea, and "my oldest son was vomiting last night," she said Tuesday.

"I thought it was nothing and then I read about the recall in the newspaper," the mother of four said. "I am going to keep an eye on the children and if it continues, I'll take them to the doctor."

Nancarrow, who used food stamps to buy the meat, said she didn't have a car to return the other package to WinCo for a refund. Because of her tight household budget, she said, she hated to waste the remaining meat.

On Saturday, WinCo announced a voluntary recall of ground beef products sold at the store April 3-9. IEH Laboratories, a Seattle-based food-testing lab involved with an independent survey of supermarket ground beef, advised WinCo on Friday that two samples of hamburger purchased from the store were tainted with E. coli bacteria.

E. coli infection, which occurs from eating undercooked meat or unwashed vegetables, often causes abdominal cramps and diarrhea, sometimes with bloody stool. Symptoms typically emerge within two to five days of eating contaminated food. Most people get over the illness in five to 10 days; it causes kidney damage and serious illness in a small percentage of cases.

Stanislaus County public health officials said Tuesday they had no reports of E. coli illness from health care providers. Hospitals and medical offices are supposed to report the food-borne illness to county health officials.

Still, several people called The Bee or put messages on about getting sick after eating meat bought at WinCo or other supermarket chains. None of the reports were confirmed.

"We follow up with any report of potential food-borne illness," said Sonya Harrigfeld, the county's environmental resources director. "If we receive reports, we will talk to those individuals, try to figure out what they ate, who ate it and if other people in their party are ill."

County and state health inspectors responded to the WinCo store last weekend to ensure ground beef was pulled from the shelves and to inspect the store's meat packaging process.

WinCo had an independent lab run tests on additional meat on hand, and the tests were negative for E. coli. After state and county officials reviewed the data, the store was given the go-ahead Tuesday to start grinding and packaging hamburger again, Harrigfeld said, though the U.S. Department of Agriculture continued with its investigation.

Officials believe the IEH test results were valid, showing that two samples of meat purchased for the survey were tainted with E. coli. The Seattle-based Marler Clark law firm, which handles food poisoning litigation, is paying for the nationwide survey to gather information on E. coli contamination of ground beef.

Although WinCo identified the supplier of the ground beef, government agencies did not disclose the name of the company, but said the meat came from a processing facility outside California.

Harrigfeld said the USDA is trying to confirm that the meat came from the supplier. The USDA's food safety division did not return several calls Tuesday.

Product recalls are common in an era when the public questions the ability of regulators to ensure that all store-bought food is free of contamination.

Harrigfeld said it's important for consumers to thoroughly wash fresh fruits and vegetables, and cook ground beef to 160 degrees.

Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at 578-2321 or