ROCHESTER - Contaminated fresh ground beef caused a possible E. coli outbreak that killed two people and sent 16 others to hospitals, federal health officials said Monday.
Twenty-eight people may have become ill after eating beef produced by Fairbank Farms of Ashville, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported. All but three of the suspected infections are in the northeastern U.S. and 18 are in New England, said CDC spokeswoman Lola Scott Russell.
Fairbank Farms recalled almost 546,000 pounds of fresh ground beef that had been distributed in September to stores from North Carolina to Maine. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's recall notice, dated Saturday, said the possibly tainted meat had been sold in numerous ways, from meatloaf and meatball mix to hamburger patties.
One of the deaths was an adult from Albany County, who had several underlying health conditions, according to the state Health Department. The other fatality was previously reported by New Hampshire, where health officials said a patient died of complications.
Some of the ground beef was sold at Trader Joe's, Price Chopper, Lancaster, Wild Harvest, Shaw's, BJ's, Ford Brothers and Giant stores in packages that carried the number ''EST. 492'' on the label. Those products were packaged Sept. 15-16 and may have been labeled with a sell-by date from Sept. 19 through Sept. 28, meaning they're no longer being sold as fresh product in supermarkets, Fairbank Farms said.
The following are recealls from Price Chopper: 1-pound and 2.5-pound trays of Price Chopper meatloaf meatball mix," 1-pound trays of "Price Chopper extra lean ground beef 96/4," and 1-pound trays of "Price Chopper ground beef chuck for chili 80 percent lean, 20 percent fat."
The USDA was urging customers with concerns to contact the stores where they bought the meat.
Ron Allen, Fairbank's CEO, urged consumers to check their freezers for the recalled ground beef.
Companies subject to such recalls are allowed to cook tainted meat to kill the bacteria and then use it in other products, a common practice in the food industry.
That won't happen in this case, the company said.
''At the end of the day, this product ... is going in the garbage,'' said company spokeswoman Agi Schafer.