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February 6, 2013

USDA: Salmonella cases may have link to Troy retail store

By Terry Oparka
C & G Staff Writer

The U.S. Department of Agriculture asked that a Troy retail store recall more than 500 pounds of ground beef products that could be contaminated with salmonella.

On Jan. 25, the USDA Food Safety Inspection and Service announced that Gab Halal Foods, located on Dequindre in Troy, was recalling the beef. A food recall is a firm’s voluntary removal of distributed food products. The USDA initiated the recall because of concerns involving a cluster of salmonella illnesses that may be associated with eating raw ground beef in a restaurant in Macomb County, said Jennifer Holton, communications director for the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

She noted that the Food Safety Inspection and Service is the lead agency on the investigation. The Food Safety Inspection and Service said the products were sold in bags of various sizes, wrapped in clear plastic, produced between Dec. 4 and 10, and were distributed to an unnamed restaurant in Macomb County.

The products, sold without a label, were also sold directly to consumers, the release states.

The beef was recalled after 17 people in five states became ill.

Holton explained that Saad Wholesale Meats supplied the ground beef to the restaurant, as well as to Gab Halal Foods and Jouni Meats on Dequindre in Sterling Heights. Jouni Meats recalled approximately 500 pounds of ground beef products Jan. 24.

Jouni Meats owner Khalil Jouni said there was no proof that his meat was tainted, and he said the USDA took the word of the restaurant when it reportedly showed a receipt from his meat shop.

“I feel that the USDA has singled me out instead of putting everyone that is involved,” Jouni said. “Basically, they ruined my business name.”

Jouni said the USDA didn’t take any meat from his store to test it, and he said the possibility existed that the meat could’ve been contaminated elsewhere.

He said the recall has cast a cloud over his business.

“I had people returning meat,” he said. “I’ve lost more than 50 percent of my income. It’s ridiculous. I’ve sold $200. On an average day, I sell $1,500.”

No deaths have occurred and about half of those who became ill were hospitalized. Federal officials could not be reached for further comment before press time.

State officials are investigating a cluster of nine cases, among which six people reported eating raw kibbeh Dec. 7 and 8. Not all of those who became ill in Michigan said they ate the raw kibbeh, a Middle Eastern dish, and the source of the exposures is still under investigation, according to a press release. 

People became sick between Dec. 9 and Jan. 7, and they ranged in age from 2 to 87, five females and four males.

“We’re working on a trace-forward and trace-back investigation,” Holton said. “What we know is that people were taken ill with salmonella, and some may have eaten at the same location.”

She would not name the restaurant. Officials at Saad Wholesale Meats, located in Eastern Market, could not be reached for comment.

Robert Berry, owner of Gab Halal Foods in Troy, said that while the matter is still under investigation, the company would refund any purchase of kibbeh sold to customers Dec. 6-8. He said that Gab Halal Foods is not affiliated with Jouni Meats.

Berry explained that the family-owned business has operated for 50 years and
keeps chicken and beef processes separate to ensure food safety.

“All the machines are clean,” he said.

According to the Food Safety Inspection and Service, the most common symptoms of salmonellosis are diarrhea, abdominal cramps and fever within 12 to 72 hours. The illness usually lasts four to seven days. In some people, however, diarrhea may be so severe that the patient needs to be hospitalized. Older adults, infants and people with weakened immune systems are more likely to develop a severe illness.

The Food Safety Inspection and Service advises all consumers to safely prepare their raw meat products, including fresh and frozen, and only consume ground beef that has been cooked to a temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit. The only way to confirm that ground beef is cooked to a temperature high enough to kill harmful bacteria is to use a food thermometer that measures internal temperature, according to the Food Safety Inspection and Service.

State officials recommend the following measures to prevent salmonella infection:

• Cook ground beef, poultry and eggs thoroughly to recommended internal temperature using a food thermometer.

• Do not eat or drink foods containing undercooked or raw eggs, or unpasteurized milk.

• Don’t handle raw meat or poultry, and an infant (e.g., feed, change diaper) at the same time.

• Be particularly careful with foods prepared for infants, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems.

• Wash hands, kitchen work surfaces, and utensils with soap and water immediately after they have been in contact with raw meat or poultry

For more information on the ongoing investigation, visit www.michigan.gov/foodsafety and click on Food Recalls.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Terry Oparka at toparka@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1054.