Tainted-Beef Recall Sparks Consumer Concerns

The Topps Meat Co.'s massive frozen hamburger beef recall has many shoppers worried about the safety of their meat, after it may have sickened 25 people in eight states.

"You don't know what's in it," one concerned shopper said. "It makes me feel very scared, and I don't know what to eat."

The recall, which includes 21.7 million pounds of meat, is enough to make a McDonald's regular hamburger for every adult in America.

The meat in question was made in late June and July. The E. coli in the hamburger beef began sickening people in August. It took nearly six weeks before the first recall was issued.

"We don't understand why it took so long to recall this meat. If there was a victim in August, it should have been revealed weeks ago," said Jean Halloran of the Consumers Union.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the industry, said there were no recall delays. However, when the first recall went out Tuesday, only a small amount was recalled. By the weekend, the recall was expanded by more than 600 times.

One victim, who tasted the tainted beef, was 15-year-old Samantha Safranek. She had severe stomach cramps in August after eating it.

"It almost cost my life," Safranek said. "I was just scared the whole time, just thinking, if I was even going to make it. And I didn't want a silly burger just to kill me."

The food recall is the latest in a rash of E. coli-related callbacks this year, including tainted spinach and salad mixes. The USDA said it is unable to explain why there have been so many outbreaks.

However, critics complain that every lot of processed meat should be tested, which is something not required today.

What Consumers Should Do

If you find any of the recalled meat in your freezer, the safest thing to do is throw it away. Of the nine brands recalled, the ones affected have a sell-by date between Sept. 25, 2007, and Sept. 25, 2008, along with a package number of 9748.

Remember, though, the real danger might not be what you buy at the store, but what you do in your kitchen.

To prevent E. coli from developing in meat when you prepare it at home always cook it to at least 155 degrees. Also, don't defrost meat on the counter. Use a refrigerator or microwave.

A full list of the recalled products is available at http://www.toppsmeat.com/.

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