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Published: Friday, 7/11/2008

USDA affirms fixes planned by beef firm tied to E. coli


OMAHA - Federal officials have approved changes that Nebraska Beef Ltd. proposed after it recalled 5.3 million pounds of beef last week.

USDA spokesman Amanda Eamich said yesterday that the company's plan satisfies concerns raised after the meat was linked to an E. coli outbreak.

At least 41 illnesses in Michigan and Ohio have been tied to Nebraska Beef's products.

The recalled beef was sold to wholesalers and distributors for more processing, so it may be difficult for consumers to determine whether they bought meat containing Nebraska Beef products.

Some of the recalled beef was sold by Kroger Co. stores. The grocer has recalled ground beef products in more than 20 states.

Ms. Eamich said USDA inspectors will check on the plant, which is in Omaha, over the next 90 days to make sure Nebraska Beef completes the changes it proposed.

But she would not discuss the details of the changes Nebraska Beef had proposed. Nebraska Beef spokesman Bill Lamson did not immediately respond to a message left yesterday.

Previously, Mr. Lamson has said the plant added another lactic acid bath, which helps kill bacteria, and hired an outside lab to test its products.

Twenty-two people have been hospitalized since the first case of E. coli bacteria linked to the beef was identified May 30, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Officials at the CDC are investigating at least eight cases of E. coli reported in southwest Georgia to determine whether the cases are linked to Nebraska Beef's products. CDC spokesman Arleen Porcell said test results answering that question are not expected before today.

The Southwest Georgia Public Health District has determined that all those who became ill in Colquitt County had eaten food from the same local barbecue restaurant. Spokesman Carolyn Maschke said the restaurant, which makes its own ground beef, recently began buying meat from Nebraska Beef.

Ms. Maschke said one of the Georgia cases of E. coli matched the exact strain of E. coli the CDC identified in Michigan and Ohio.

Cooking ground beef to an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees should kill E. coli.

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