WASHINGTON (AP) - The government expanded its recall of ground beef produced by an Arkansas company to 1.2 million pounds Friday because of new evidence of possible contamination by E. coli bacteria.
Anyone who has purchased frozen ground-beef patties since June 4 should check their freezers to determine if any of the Hudson Foods Co. products are there. If so, they should be returned to the point of purchase, Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman said.
The tainted beef came from the Hudson Foods plant in Columbus, Neb., and government officials are trying to determine if other contaminated products were produced there.
"USDA is conducting a thorough investigation at the plant to ensure that no unsafe product is being allowed to go into commerce," Glickman said.
Much of the ground beef has likely gone through the food system and already been eaten, officials said.
Burger King, a major customer of Hudson Foods, said Friday it had found no evidence that any hamburger it bought from the company on the production days in question was tainted with E. coli. The suspect ground beef was produced at Hudson's Nebraska plant on June 4, June 5 and June 9.
Burger King said it does its own E. coli screening tests on beef patties and also thoroughly cooks every burger at 155 degrees for at least 15 seconds, high enough to kill the bacteria.
"We are confident that Burger King Corp.'s stringent quality standards, inspection policies and cookout requirements ensure the continued safety of our customers," the Miami-based company said in a statement.
Although Hudson, based in Rogers, Ark., voluntarily recalled some 40,000 pounds of hamburger earlier this week, federal officials say there appeared to be some unwarranted delay in determining how much beef may have been contaminated with E. coli.
"USDA will pursue the appropriate corrective action," said Cathy Woteki, undersecretary for food safety.
A spokesman for Hudson did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment.
E. coli bacteria can cause severe diarrhea, cramps and dehydration and can be fatal, although no deaths have been associated with this ground beef recall, officials said. The young, elderly and people with weak immune systems are most susceptible.
The initial Hudson recall began after health officials in Colorado traced the illnesses of about 20 people to hamburger patties they ate in early June.
The government recall covers all Hudson frozen beef patties produced since June 4. Officials have not yet identified every batch of hamburger that could be contaminated, but so far, officials said consumers should check specifically for these codes:
- All 48-ounce packages of "Hudson Beef Burgers, Individually Quick Frozen" that contain 12 quarter-pound patties. The code 156A7 is on the bottom of the package.
- All 3-pound packages of "Hudson 100% Pure Beef Patties, Individually Quick Frozen" that contain 12 quarter-pound patties. The code 156B7 is on the bottom.
- All 15-pound boxes of "Hudson 60 - ¬-lb. Beef Patties, Uncooked Individually Quick Frozen" containing 60 quarter-pounds patties. The code 155B7 appears on the bottom.
- All three contain the code "Est. 13569" in the USDA inspection seal on the label.