MINNEAPOLIS - Eighteen school children recently became ill a few days after eating a casserole in their school cafeteria. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, ground beef contaminated with Escherichia coli is believed to be responsible for the outbreak.
Students at Risen Christ Catholic School here ate a casserole of ground beef, pasta and tomato sauce March 14 and started showing E. coli infection symptoms - including severe or bloody diarrhea and abdominal cramps - between March 16 and March 22. While two children required hospitalization at one point, all have since recovered.
The mean duration of symptoms was four days among 10 children for whom data were available, according to Liz Wagstrom, DVM, MS, epidemiologist with the Minnesota health department. Eight children were still sick when the data were compiled and were not included. There have been no reports of hemolytic uremic syndrome associated with the outbreak. E. coli O157H7 has been confirmed in six students.
The casserole was baked in seven separate pans. Third and fourth graders, who ate first that day, plus one fifth grader, were affected, Wagstrom said.
Officials with the Department of Agriculture (USDA) identified ground beef as the most probable source of the infection on March 30. Although a total of 79,200 lb of meat from the lot, produced on Nov. 10, 1999, at a Minneapolis processing plant, was distributed to 51 schools throughout the state, there were no other reports of E. coli illness.
"This product was purchased by the USDA for the school lunch program," said Margaret Glavin, associate administrator, food safety and inspection service at the USDA. "We were able to trace it to a particular lot, which was USDA product."
A total of 6,600 lb of ground beef has been returned from the schools, and the USDA's Food and Nutrition Service is working on plans to destroy the product, according to Glavin.
For more information:
- Elbasha EH, Fitzsimmons TD, Meltzer MI. Costs and benefits of a subtype-specific system for identifying Escherichia coli O157:H7 outbreaks. Emerg Infect Dis. 2000;6:3.
- Bender JB, Hedberg CW, Besser JM, et al. Surveillance for Escherichia coli O157:H7 infections in Minnesota by molecular subtyping. N Engl J Med. 1997;337:388-394
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