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Does an 80,000-Pound Brisket Recall Affect Your Passover Dinner?

If you were planning to cook a brisket for Passover this year, you might want to check the label before popping it in the slow cooker. H&B Packing Company, Inc., located in Waco, Texas, issued a recall for nearly 80,000 pounds of boneless beef products in late March. The company said that the beef could be contaminated with a strain of Escherichia coli that could cause food poisoning. At the time of recall, there had not been reports of illness linked to the consumption of these beef products.
Since E. coli are known to live in human and animal intestines, the bacteria are not always harmful; however, some strains can cause food poisoning. The strain of E. coli detected in the beef products is a non-O157 Shiga toxin-producing strain. Shiga-producing E. coli create a Shiga toxin that may cause severe stomach cramps, diarrhea, and vomiting. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Shiga toxins can be associated with the development of hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which can cause kidney failure and even death. This condition is usually caused by O157 strains of E. coli, which is likely why the bacterium was not detected before being shipped to stores. Many companies and labs do not test for non-O157 strains because these strains are more uncommon and are seldom present in bovine products. Because the incubation period for these bacterial strains can be as long as eight days, it can be difficult to trace the source of the food poisoning, particularly after a holiday meal.

E. coli-producing Shiga toxins were last linked to an outbreak of food poisoning in the United States in Fall 2016, when seven patients in four states were diagnosed with the infection, and five of the seven were hospitalized; none of these patients developed HUS. The infection was traced back to the slaughterhouse that had provided the beef products. In this instance, unless there are documented illnesses, it seems unlikely that the packing company will face any serious fallout from the recall, outside of financial loss.

Brisket represents a particularly troublesome beef product when it comes to food poisoning because of its role in holiday meals and the relatively long preparation process for the meat. Many people opt to slow-cook brisket in a crockpot or other slow cooker, and it may also sit out for multiple hours at holiday buffets. Furthermore, a number of traditional recipes include instructions to let the meat “sit” after cooking rather than cooling and refrigerating immediately. For many, making brisket is actually a two-day process. On the first day, the brisket is cooked at a low temperature for most of the day and then left out to cool. On the second day, the brisket is sliced and reheated, then served, sometimes at room temperature. These practices allow multiple windows of opportunity for bacteria to thrive in the dish rather than being eliminated by high heat or cold.

A USDA spokesperson said that the likelihood of contaminated products going undetected hinges largely on frozen meat products. The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) warned, “Some product might be frozen and in customers’ freezers,” and added, “Customers who have purchased these products are urged not to use them.”
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