The US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) reported a public health alert due to concerns that the ground beef in some HelloFresh meal kits may be associated with E. Coli illness. While the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would normally issue a recall, no recall was issued because the products are no longer available for purchase.
“The meal kits containing ground beef for this public health alert were shipped to consumers from July 2-21, 2022,” the FSIS stated in a public health alert. “The following products are subject to the public health alert [view label]: 10-oz. plastic vacuum-packed packages containing ‘GROUND BEEF 85% LEAN/15% FAT’ with codes ‘EST#46841 L1 22 155’ or ‘EST#46841 L5 22 155’ on the side of the packaging.”
Although no recall will be issued, the FSIS is concerned some customers may still have ground beef in their freezers and is encouraging these customers to dispose of the product. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is working with the FSIS and state health officials on the HelloFresh E. Coli outbreak investigation. However, the CDC has not yet posted any information on the outbreak as of September 12.
The public health alert comes as some federal health authorities in the country are investigating an outbreak of E. coli, with ground beef being the probable source of the illnesses. In April, the FSIS announced that the New Jersey-based company Lakeside Refrigerated Services was recalling over 120,000 pounds of ground beef products that may be contaminated with E. Coli.
In August, the FSIS issued another public health alert over concerns that Hawaii Big Island Beef’s ground beef products may be adulterated with E. Coli. The problem was discovered by the FSIS during an assessment of the establishment’s production records associated with a sample that tested positive for E. Coli. These items were shipped to retail and restaurant locations in Hawaii.
As ground beef-related E. Coli outbreaks continue to pop up, consumers should be aware of the symptoms and seek medical attention from potential exposure to the bacteria. Specific tests are required to diagnose the infection, and symptoms can vary person-to-person but often include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea and even fever.
While most E. Coli patients recover within five to seven days, about five to 10 percent of those diagnosed develop a potentially life-threatening kidney failure complication, known as a hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). Symptoms of HUS include fever, abdominal pain, fatigue, decreased frequency of urination, small unexplained bruises or bleeding and paleness.
According to the CDC, an estimated 265,000 E. Coli infections occur each year in the US. Around the world, the WHO Global Burden of Foodborne Diseases report estimates that around 300 million illnesses and nearly 200,000 deaths are caused by E. Coli each year. While rates of infection vary by region, high-risk areas include most of Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Mexico and Central and South America.
Meanwhile, the latest HelloFresh E. Coli outbreak serves as a reminder that ground beef should be cooked to 160 °F in order to kill harmful bacteria.