ISSIQUAH, Wash. -- Costco Wholesale Corp. here, the biggest U.S. operator of warehouse club stores, voluntarily recalled 172,000 pounds of frozen ground beef on June 29.
The recall was issued after a New York woman became ill from eating meat contaminated with E. coli bacteria.
Recalled by Costco were frozen 1/3-pound Kirkland Signature Ground Sirloin and Loin of Beef Patties in 6-pound packages, and frozen 1/4 pound Kirkland Signature Ground Beef Patties in 6-pound packages. All were produced April 6 and 7 at Costco's plant in Tracy, Calif.
The two beef products were distributed exclusively to Costco stores in 24 states. They are Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.
The recall was Costco's first for one of its own food items, said Richard Galanti, chief financial officer of Costco here. The company urged consumers to return the patties in question, including opened packages, to the nearest Costco Wholesale Warehouse for a full refund. Not as much product as the company had sold came back. Galanti said it was assumed that much of the beef had been consumed by the time the recall was issued.
In the first 24 hours, more than 13,000 calls were received by the company's emergency 800 number, Galanti said. Most callers had questions regarding the package codes and markings.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington, D.C., requested the recall after laboratory tests confirmed the presence of E. coli 0157:H7 in meat from a production lot that was linked to an illness on Long Island, N.Y.
The woman reportedly ate the meat at a family barbecue May 25, noticed symptoms June 2, and was hospitalized for the rest of the first week of June. She has recovered.
The bacteria is a potentially deadly pathogen that can cause bloody diarrhea and dehydration.
The very young, the elderly, and persons with compromised immune systems are the most susceptible to food-borne illness, according to a USDA news release.
"I don't know how this will affect sales of ground beef," Galanti said. "I assume every time there is a negative, it heightens consumers' awareness. I hope it also heightens their awareness of cooking to the proper temperature. Even if it [E. coli] is present, it can be destroyed by cooking to USDA guidelines."
Costco also reminded consumers that they can ensure the safety of ground beef by cooking it to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
A spokesman at the American Meat Institute, Arlington, Va., said, "We are concerned about any E. coli recall. We urge the use of safe handling methods, and the use of the digital instant-read meat thermometer, which has a very small contact point. Take it off the grill, set it on a plate, and test the temperature there."
Ken Mastracchio, a former USDA inspector who now works for the National Meat Association in Oakland, Calif., said the standards of the Costco Tracy plant were high.
"If there was a model that I would point to, it would be the Costco Tracy facility," he said. "I don't know of any food that is 100% safe, being consumed in a raw state," he added.
Mastracchio, who is director of regulatory issues for the National Meat Association, said he would like to see more supermarket programs, such as pamphlets, that increase consumers' awareness of how to safely prepare foods.