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CNN BREAKING NEWS

ConAgra Foods May be Recalling 18 Million Pounds of Ground Beef

Aired July 19, 2002 - 11:24   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: In the meantime, let's get an update now on that breaking health story that we just reported moments ago. Word that ConAgra Foods that may be recalling some 18 million pounds of ground beef.

Our medical correspondent Rea Blakey is checking in right now and I believe that Rea has been able to dig up some more information on this story. Rea's in New York right now - Rea.

REA BLAKEY, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Leon. We have a little bit more information for you. Basically at this point what we do know is that on June 30th there was, in fact, a USDA recall of some six - 3,000 - I'm sorry, 356,000 pounds of ground beef, and this would be an extension of that recall. We're told approximately about 18 million pounds, even though that sounds like a great deal, it would not be the largest recall of ground beef that we know of.

There was a larger recall of 35 million pounds back in 1997 when some 15 people in Colorado became ill. This particular ConAgra plant is in Greenlee (ph), Colorado and the USDA was criticized for its handling of the case early on in late June because it waited 10 days before it notified the plant. What they wanted to do was to actually have an investigation and then go back to the plant.

Now they're looking at modifying their regulation so that they might more immediately contact the plant. At this point we're told that some 18 people have been sickened by this E.coli outbreak and as you may know, E.coli is not totally uncommon in the U.S. There are about 61 deaths each year, but some 73,000 cases reported to the CDC and essentially a person could prevent E.coli from occurring by simply thoroughly cooking their ground beef and not having unpasteurized milk, for example, and making sure to thoroughly wash their hands when dealing with any food products.

We're planning on getting more information from the USDA. Right now there's a news conference, telephone conference going on. Of course I'm on the air with you, so I've got a producer on the line. But as soon as we get more on that, Leon, we will get that to you as well.

HARRIS: Yes and we want folks to pay attention to that because if I'm reading this correctly, if this is an extension, the word of this extension of the recall is coming three weeks after the initial recall was announced, which means that by now this food has got to be in people's homes and refrigerators by now.

BLAKEY: It's very likely. Many of these products may be in people's homes or may have already been consumed. Not everybody is affected by the bacteria. As usual, people who are either elderly or extremely young are probably most likely to have some kind of ill effect from an E.coli virus.

However, again, thoroughly cooking your beef could probably prevent you from having any problems. But 18 million pounds is a lot of food. One other thing I probably should pass on to you that even though they're talking about recalling ground beef, you should know that ConAgra has a number of products on the market, including brands like Healthy Choice, and Butterball, and Ready Whip and some Banquet foods.

Again, we're talking about ground beef here in particular, in regards to this potentially extended recall of 18 million pounds. So, again, once we can clarify all of that, we'll nail it down for you a little better.

HARRIS: Yes. One quick question, because I know, I'm just thinking just now as you were thinking there, that July 4th, there were a lot of cookouts across ...

BLAKEY: Yes.

HARRIS: ... the country. If E.coli had been a big problem and people had not been cooking it thoroughly, do you think we would have heard by now of an outbreak of this?

BLAKEY: It's quite likely. For some people, it takes a little bit more of an incubation period. However, we're talking about what would have been, what, more than two weeks now.

HARRIS: Yes about two and a half weeks ...

BLAKEY: Or about a two-week period. So chances are if you were to have become sickened, you would know by now and again, there were some 18 people who were initially sickened by the food products on the 30th of June, which prompted the whole investigation to being by the USDA.

So, again, we'll keep you posted on that. Chances are if you have not become sickened, it's very likely you may not. Let me just really quickly glance here. I have been handed from my producer, 18.6 million pounds of beef, trim and frozen meat products, and again, an expansion of the recall that began June 30th, 154,000 pounds of beef products.

The CDC has documented multiple cases of food illnesses starting July 10th, we're told now, Leon.

HARRIS: OK.

BLAKEY: And this has prompted the investigation to prevent any more illnesses from beginning from occurring. Nineteen cases of illnesses according to the CDC. No one hospitalized at the moment and even though some people were in the hospital, apparently they are out now and the CDC will have more information for us. They're checking that story as well.

Can I tell you a little bit about another story that I have today?

HARRIS: OK. I believe you were going to talk to us about something a bit more pleasant.

BLAKEY: Well it still has to do with food and it may actually keep you from having fast foods, particularly burgers, if you're sensitive to that kind of thing. Most of us have seen what they call that annual honor role, listing America's top hospitals. Those are usually the cream of the crop hospitals that have demonstrated unusual excellence in a variety of medical specialties.

This ties in because a recent study concludes that some of the nation's best hospitals are offering some questionable fast-food choices.

HARRIS: All right, we'll get a little bit more on that a little bit later on.

BLAKEY: All right.

HARRIS: We got to move on. We got ...

BLAKEY: OK.

HARRIS: ... so much to get in here.

BLAKEY: I appreciate that.

HARRIS: ... with all that breaking news and we want you to go and dig up some more information on that story ...

BLAKEY: I'll do it right away.

HARRIS: ... about the meat recall and good work for your producer there for getting that information to you.

BLAKEY: All right.

HARRIS: All right Rea Blakey in New York. Thanks Rea.

BLAKEY: You're welcome.

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