Health Highlights: Feb. 18, 2008

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:

U.S. Orders Largest Beef Recall in History

In what is being billed as the largest beef recall in the United States, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Sunday ordered the recall of 143 million pounds of frozen beef produced by a California slaughterhouse that is the subject of an animal-abuse investigation.

The recall from the Chino-based Westland/Hallmark Meat Co., which provided meat to school lunch programs, affects beef products dating back to Feb. 1, 2006, according to an Associated Press report. There have been no reports of illnesses linked to the recalled meat, and USDA officials termed the health threat small.

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Officials estimate that about 37 million pounds of the recalled beef went to school programs, but they believe most of the meat has already been eaten, according to Dr. Dick Raymond, USDA Undersecretary for Food Safety.

Most of the beef was sent to distribution centers in bulk packages, and the USDA was planning to work with the distributors to determine how much meat remains, the AP reported.

U.S. officials recently suspended operations at Westland/Hallmark after an undercover Humane Society video showed crippled and sick animals being shoved with forklifts. Felony and misdemeanor charges were filed last week against some employees of the company, and an official investigation continues.

Federal regulations call for keeping downed cattle out of the food supply because they may pose a higher risk of contamination from E. coli, salmonella or mad cow disease.

About 150 school districts around the nation have stopped using ground beef from Hallmark Meat Packing Co., which is associated with Westland. Two fast-food chains, Jack-In-the-Box and In-N-Out, said they would not use beef from Westland/Hallmark, the AP reported. Other chains, such as McDonald's and Burger King, said they do not buy beef from Westland.

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More Pain Patches Recalled

A defect that could cause an overdose in patients or caregivers has led to the second recall in a week of patches containing the prescription painkiller fentanyl, the Associated Press reported.

The new recall, announced Monday, covers patches sold in the United States by Actavis South Atlantic LLC. That name appears on the outer carton, while the pouches that contain the patches have the company's former name, Abrika Pharmaceuticals Inc., printed on them.

The recall includes 25-microgram-per-hour, 50-microgram-per-hour, 75-microgram-per-hour and 100-microgram-per-hour patches with expiration dates of May through August 2009, the AP reported.

A potential defect in the patches may cause them to leak, resulting in patients or caregivers coming into direct contact with the powerful opioid drug inside the patch. An overdose of the drug could lead to difficulty breathing and a potentially fatal overdose.

At this point the company hasn't received any reports of injuries linked to the patch defect.

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