E. COLI-RELATED RECALLS GROW

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- A pair of ground beef recalls last week removed more than one million pounds of product from the food distribution channel -- and threatened to cast a pall over the grill-happy Labor Day weekend.First, American Foods Group announced a voluntary recall of 530,000 pounds of ground beef product, after a sample tested by regulators revealed possible contamination with E. coli 0157:H7.

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- A pair of ground beef recalls last week removed more than one million pounds of product from the food distribution channel -- and threatened to cast a pall over the grill-happy Labor Day weekend.

First, American Foods Group announced a voluntary recall of 530,000 pounds of ground beef product, after a sample tested by regulators revealed possible contamination with E. coli 0157:H7. Included in this latest callback are 3- and 5-pound chubs and some overwrapped trays of product sold by Kroger Co., Cincinnati, in 15 states.

It was the largest, single food-related recall of the summer season, officials said.

However, a subsequent 500,000-pound recall of ground beef, produced by meatpacking giant IBP, Dakota City, Neb., was the most widespread -- covering some 35 states, they said. The recall was also prompted by routing pathogen sampling conducted by the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

No illnesses were reported regarding either product, officials noted. But retailers felt a pinch in ground beef supply as negative publicity surrounding E. coli contamination made shoppers wary.

Besides Kroger, Dominick's, a division of Pleasanton, Calif.-based Safeway, announced roughly 15% of the AFG meat in question was sent to its stores in the Chicago area. Authorities also said ground beef sold by Jay C, Pay Less and Owen's Stores in Indiana, and Kessel Food Markets in Michigan, was part of the callback.

The recall was prompted by follow-up testing on samples of ground beef implicated in an ongoing Chicago-area outbreak of E. coli, which has sickened at least 40 people since July 1. Tests of product processed by American Foods Group indicated a link to at least one of those illnesses, through a package of ground beef purchased at a Dominick's store, officials have said.

Illinois Department of Public Health spokesman Tom Schafer noted there are ongoing efforts to keep the public informed.

"We have been in every newspaper and on every television and radio station in the Chicago area telling people to cook ground beef to 160 degrees," he said. "There's not one we've missed."

Meanwhile, a recent survey commissioned by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine revealed that 84% of the 1,000 participants interviewed had no idea that the primary source of E. coli, salmonella, campylbacter and other foodborne pathogens on meat and poultry is animal feces. Opinion Research Corporation International conducted the survey July 26 to 29.