Likely source of Topps Meat Co. recall identified

by Keith Nunes
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WASHINGTON ― Ranchers Beef Ltd., Balzac, Alberta, has been identified as a likely source of the multistate outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 infections linked to the Topps Meat Co., Elizabeth, N.J. The recall of 21 million lbs of frozen ground beef forced Topps to go out of business.

On Oct. 25, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (C.F.I.A.) provided the Food Safety and Inspection Service (F.S.I.S.) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture with DNA data from tests of beef trim from Ranchers Beef Ltd. that matched the strain linked to the recall. Ranchers Beef sold trim to Topps Meat.

While the Canadian company had ceased operations due to bankruptcy on Aug. 15, some product remained in storage and was collected and tested by the C.F.I.A. as part of the investigation into the cause of the Topps recall and as part of the C.F.I.A.’s own investigation into 45 illnesses in Canada caused by E. coli O157:H7.

Ranchers Beef Ltd., a self-described vertically integrated beef slaughterer and processor, closed its $40 million facility and filed for bankruptcy in August. The facility had opened just 17 months before it filed for bankruptcy.

"We appreciate the assistance from our food safety partners in Canada," said Dr. Richard Raymond, the U.S.D.A. undersecretary for food safety. "This piece of information helped us to determine a likely source of contaminated product which led to the Sept. 29 Topps Meat Co. expanded recall."

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