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300,000 frozen pizzas linked to E. coli may have been served in schools

Teresa Tanoos's picture
Tainted pizzas may have been served in schools

The company that recalled 10-million pounds of frozen pizzas and other food items tainted with E. coli announced that 300,000 pounds of that recalled food may have been served in school lunchrooms.

The food was recalled by Rich Products Corp. after 27 E. coli illnesses in 15 states were linked to their foods over the last two weeks. According to a company spokesperson, another 3 million pounds of potentially contaminated food may still be in the marketplace in addition to the 10-million foods already recalled.

According to a press release from Rich Products on April 4, the company expanded its voluntary recall from March 28 to include all products produced at its Waycross, Georgia plant with “Best By” dates from January 1, 2013 to September 29, 2014 as a result of possible contamination with Escherichia coli O121 bacteria (“E. coli O121”). Products manufactured at other plants weren't affected.

“When it became apparent to us that, despite the expertise of the USDA, the FDA, the scientific community and our own experts, identification of a specific cause was not going to be a simple or short process, we decided to act proactively to expand the recall,” said Bill Gisel, President and Chief Executive Officer of Rich Products.

Gisel added that the company will continue to cooperate fully with federal, state and local agencies investigating this situation.

According to the CDC, E. coli contamination symptoms include mild to severe diarrhea and abdominal cramps. Blood is often seen in the stool, and there is usually little or no fever present. While most healthy adults recover completely within 5-10 days, some individuals may develop Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS), a serious complication that can cause kidney failure – and even death. HUS is most likely to occur in young children and the elderly.

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According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 81 percent of the people who fell ill from E. coli infection were younger than 21 years old. Nine of those infected were hospitalized, and of those, two have developed HUS.

A problem with the particular strain of E. coli linked to the company’s recalled products is it can be difficult for some laboratories to identify. As a result, many illnesses may not have been identified, according to the CDC.

Nevertheless, two different Farm Rich brand products have been directly linked to the outbreak strain of E. coli after two people became ill from eating the food items, which were the company’s frozen mini pizza slices and frozen chicken quesadillas.

Although it’s not yet known if any illnesses have been linked to foods shipped to school lunchrooms, one school district has already warned parents that food served in its cafeterias was recalled due to possible E. coli contamination.

According to a spokeswoman for Harford County, Md. Schools, Rich Products had notified the district about its recall of pepperoni pizzas, but some of them had already been served in the school’s cafeterias.

However, a spokesman for Rich Products said that school foods may be safer than those purchased at a grocery because they are more likely to be well cooked – and cooking food thoroughly can kill E. coli.

SOURCES: Rich Products Corporation (Corporate Press Release, April 4, 2013); Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)