UPDATE 3-Two U.S. deaths may be linked to bad beef

Mon Nov 2, 2009 7:04pm EST

Related Topics

* CDC says total of 28 cases, 16 hospitalizations

* All but three cases are in U.S. Northeast

* Illness connected to recall of Fairbank Farms beef (Details on New York death; paragraphs 1, 3, 8 new)

WASHINGTON, Nov 2 (Reuters) - An outbreak of food-borne illness, linked to dangerous bacteria in ground beef, sickened 28 people and may have caused two deaths in the U.S. Northeast, health officials said on Monday.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said all but three of the illnesses were in the Northeast and 18 were in the six New England states. A common strain of E. coli bacteria was involved so tests were under way to see if all of the reported cases have the same cause.

State officials said a death in New Hampshire was linked to the ground beef that is being recalled by Fairbank Farms of Ashville, New York. The New York State Health Department said a death in the Albany area from E. coli O157:H7 bacteria was being investigated to see if it is linked.

New Hampshire officials did not release information about the death in their state. The death in New York state last month involved an adult with underlying medical conditions, said the CDC. Two people were hospitalized in New Hampshire.

Fairbank Farms announced the recall on Saturday of 545,699 lbs (248,450 kg) of fresh ground beef products. The beef was produced in mid-September and probably was labeled for sale by the end of the month, said USDA.

The Agriculture Department, which oversees meat safety, said an investigation led it to conclude "there is an association between the fresh ground beef products and illnesses in Connecticut, Maine and Massachusetts." USDA worked with state and federal officials in examining a cluster of E. coli O157:H7 illnesses.

A potentially deadly bacteria, E. coli can cause bloody diarrhea, dehydration and, in severe cases, kidney failure. The very young, the elderly and people with weak immune systems are the most susceptible to foodborne illness.

USDA said it would examine Fairbank Farms' food safety plan this week.

A string of food-borne safety scares led the U.S. House of Representatives to pass legislation this summer to require more inspections and oversight of food manufacturers and would give the government new authority to order recalls.

The Fairbank Farms beef went to retailers including Trader Joe's, Price Chopper, Lancaster and Wild Harvest, Shaw's, a unit of Supervalu (SVU.N), BJ's BJ.N, Ford Brothers and Giant, a unit of Ahold (AHLN.AS), in eight states -- Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

A complete list of products is available at:

link.reuters.com/vyx27f

The beef was produced Sept. 14-16, and the company urged consumers to check their freezers for products listed in the recall. Labels of the recalled packages will say EST 492 inside the USDA seal. (Reporting by Charles Abbott; Editing by Christian Wiessner)

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