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Saturday, October 06, 2007

Topps Meat Company Closes After E. coli Outbreak

Topps Meat Company, the country’s largest producer of frozen hamburger patties, closed it doors Friday after an extensive beef recall consisting of 21.7 million pounds of ground beef products in one of the largest meat recalls in recent years.

USDA tests had shown signs of tainted hamburger patties at Topps 18 days before it forced the Sept. 29 recall. Officials did not act because they believed the meat could have been tainted in consumers home.

The E. coli outbreak infected at least 30 people in 8 different states.

Statement from Topps Meat Company: (PDF of statement found here)

October 5, 2007

Topps Meat Company Ends Operations After 67 Years

Elizabeth, New Jersey, October 5, 2007 – Topps Meat Company LLC announced today that because of the economic impact of the second-largest beef recall in U.S. history involving more than 21.7 million pounds of ground beef products, it is forced to close its Elizabeth plant and go out of business effective today.

“This is tragic for all concerned,” said Anthony D’Urso, Chief Operating Officer. “In one week we have gone from the largest U.S. manufacturer of frozen hamburgers to a company that cannot overcome the economic reality of a recall this large. We sincerely regret the impact this will have on our employees, our customers and suppliers, and the community. Most of all, we regret that our products have been linked by public health agencies to recently reported illnesses. We hope and pray for the full recovery of those individuals.”

A small number of the 87 employees will remain at the Elizabeth plant for an indefinite time to assist the USDA in its ongoing investigation and to handle administrative matters, including ensuring the effectiveness of the recall.

“We want to thank our loyal employees and customers who have supported us throughout the 67 years in which Topps Meat has been in business,” D’Urso said. “Topps has always prided itself on providing the utmost quality and safety and never had a recall in our history until now. This has been a shocking and sobering experience for everyone.”

Topps Meat Company was founded in 1940 and is a leading manufacturer and supplier of premium branded frozen hamburgers and other portion controlled meat for supermarkets and mass merchandisers.

As the Company assesses and addresses the impact of the closing on all affected parties, individuals with business-related questions regarding Topps Meat Company can call 888- 734-0451 or email Employees and government inquiries can call (888) 240-2734. # # #

According to Daily News, the father of a 12 yr old girl, Brianna DiMartini of Staten Island, that was infected from the meat, had this to say:

"The USDA decided that protecting the reputation of a company is more important than the lives of our kids,"What's the sense of testing if we don't do anything about it?"

Health officials say the first reported case of sickness linked to the O157:H7 strain of E. coli found in the Topps meat occurred on July 5, when an 18-year-old girl in central Pennsylvania fell ill.

States with Outbreak-Associated Cases of E. coli O157, October 2007
Investigators compared the “DNA fingerprints” patterns of E. coli O157 strains found in ground beef with “DNA fingerprints” patterns of E. coli O157 strains isolated from ill persons. As of 12 PM (ET) October 5, 2007, 32 cases of E. coli O157:H7 infection have been identified with PFGE patterns that match at least one of the patterns of E. coli strains found in Topp's brand frozen ground beef patties. Ill persons reside in 8 states [Connecticut (2), Florida (1), Indiana (1), Maine (1), New Jersey (7), New York (9), Ohio (1), and Pennsylvania (10)]. Twenty-one (91%) of 23 patients with a detailed food history consumed ground beef. Three illnesses have confirmed associations with recalled products because the strain isolated from the person was also isolated from the meat in their home. The first reported illness began on July 5, 2007, and the last began on September 15, 2007. Among twenty-three ill persons for whom hospitalization status is known, fifteen (65%) were hospitalized. One patient developed a type of kidney failure called hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS). No deaths have been reported. Fifteen (47%) patients are female. The ages of patients range from 1 to 77 years; 50% are between 15 and 24 years old (only 14% of the US population is in this age group).

What is Escherichia coli O157:H7?

According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and prevention)

E. coli O157:H7 is one of hundreds of strains of the bacterium Escherichia coli. Although most strains are harmless, this strain produces a powerful toxin that can cause severe illness. E. coli O157:H7 has been found in the intestines of healthy cattle, deer, goats, and sheep.

E. coli O157:H7 was first recognized as a cause of illness in 1982 during an outbreak of severe bloody diarrhea; the outbreak was traced to contaminated hamburgers. Since then, more infections in the United States have been caused by eating undercooked ground beef than by any other food.

The combination of letters and numbers in the name of the bacterium refers to the specific markers found on its surface and distinguishes it from other types of E. coli.


Escherichia coli O157:H7 is a leading cause of foodborne illness. Based on a 1999 estimate, 73,000 cases of infection and 61 deaths occur in the United States each year. In the ten CDC Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network (FoodNet) sites (which represent 15% of the US population), there was a 29% decline in E. coli O157:H7 infection since 1996-98 (see FoodNet Reports).

Infection with E. coli often leads to bloody diarrhea, and occasionally to kidney failure. People can become infected with E.coli O157:H7 in a variety of ways. Though most illness has been associated with eating undercooked, contaminated ground beef, people have also become ill from eating contaminated bean sprouts or fresh leafy vegetables such as lettuce and spinach. Person-to-person contact in families and child care centers is also a known mode of transmission. In addition, infection can occur after drinking raw milk and after swimming in or drinking sewage-contaminated water.

Consumers can prevent E. coli O157:H7 infection by thoroughly cooking ground beef, avoiding unpasteurized milk, and by washing hands carefully before preparing or eating food. Fruits and vegetables should be washed well, but washing may not remove all contamination. Public service announcements on television, radio, or in the newspapers will advise you which foods to avoid in the event of an outbreak.

Because the organism lives in the intestines of healthy cattle, preventive measures on cattle farms, during meat processing, and during the growth, harvest and processing of produce are being investigated.

Bottom line, if you have Topps meat in your freezer, better safe than sorry, just throw it out.

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