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WASHINGTON STATE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH OFFICIALS ANNOUNCE LEVELS OF COLIFORM CONTAMINATION IN BEEF

 OLYMPIA, Wash., Jan. 22 /PRNewswire/ -- Washington State Health officials have found high levels of coliform contamination (animal feces or waste) in two of 10 ground beef samples collected from several Jack-in-the-Box restaurants in King County, the Washington State Department of Health said today.
 Published recommended standards indicate that total coliforms in ground beef should not exceed 1,000 per gram of beef. State health laboratory results found coliform levels ranging from 49 to 540 per gram in eight samples, with two samples ranging from 1,600 to more than 2,400 per gram.
 "This high level of contamination in two samples means it would be more difficult, though not impossible, to kill all the bacteria through normal cooking procedures," said Bert Bartleson, technical expert for the State Department of Health's food program.
 Jack-in-the-Box restaurants nationwide have increased the cooking time for beef patties since this problem became known. The increased time, from two minutes to two minutes and 15 seconds, together with "an extra flip" on the hamburgers before serving, has helped alleviate state health officials' concerns regarding undercooking.
 The likely source is meat contaminated with feces at the time of slaughter. This meat was supplied by one of the beef producers to the Vons Companies Inc., which, in turn, produces ground beef patties for Jack-in-the-Box restaurants.
 The coliform test is one of several tests being conducted on the ground beef, which has been linked to more than 100 confirmed and likely cases of food poisoning in Washington state and Boise, Idaho, since early January. One death has occurred from the illnesses.
 Other test results available today indicate there were no mishandling or refrigeration problems during manufacture or transportation of the beef. In addition, there was no evidence of refrigeration problems at Jack-in-the-Box restaurants.
 Other test results, including those for E coli 0157:H7, will be available next week. All of these tests were conducted on frozen beef patties collected on Sunday, Jan. 17, by the representatives of the Seattle/King County Department of Public Health.
 Many additional samples of beef patties have been collected and will be analyzed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
 Last year, a new state health regulation requiring ground beef be cooked to 155 degrees Fahrenheit in all food service establishments went into effect, one of several changes to food service regulations in Washington state. This particular regulation was developed to control harmful bacteria, including E coli 0157:H7.
 It was adopted after several years of discussions with local health and industry officials and promulgated last May by the state Board of Health. It was later published in the Washington State Register.
 In addition to the minimum legal requirement of publication, state health officials conducted public meetings on the new regulations in locations throughout the state and distributed copies of the regulations to representatives of the food service industry.
 Washington is the first state in the nation to adopt this stringent cooking requirement. Federal guidelines call for 140 degrees cooking temperature for ground beef.
 -0- 1/22/93
 /CONTACT: Dean R. Owen of the Washington State Department of Health, 206-753-3934, or pager, 206-786-2264/


CO: Washington State Department of Health; Jack-in-the-Box; Vons
 Companies Inc. ST: Washington, Idaho IN: HEA LEI SU:


SW-JH -- SE013 -- 8077 01/22/93 16:48 EST
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Date:Jan 22, 1993
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