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Steak may be bearer of bacteria: Tenderizer, flavoring injections could transmit harmful E. coli

Robert Bazell

NBC NEWS

7/3/2003

It turns out that the same dangerous bacteria found in some hamburger meat may be turning up in another cut of beef.

NBC's Robert Bazell reports.

"I HAD no idea that this potentially deadly toxin could be in food that I was putting on the table," said Ann Koesterer, whose seven-year-old daughter Katelyn almost died last year from an infection she got from eating contaminated hamburger.

The toxin comes from a strain of bacteria called E. coli 0157. It strikes an estimated 20,000 Americans a year. Now, a new investigation suggests people might get infected from steaks as well as hamburgers.

"You could potentially have a steak and cook it medium rare, as you have in the past, and kill all the bacteria on the outside and not know that there's bacteria on the inside of that piece of meat," said Dr. Michael Osterholm, of the University of Minnesota.

The investigation focuses on Stampede Meats, a packing house in a Chicago complex that voluntarily recalled 737,000 pounds of meat after health officials in Minnesota and several other states traced infections to its steak.

Hamburger gets contaminated when bits of cattle feces get mixed in. How might steaks be contaminated? Often packers inject meat with tenderizers or flavorings and some researchers theorize that might put germs inside the meat.

"It's something that has been considered in the past a potential risk of transmitting infectious agents. But this is really the best example we've had to date," says Osterholm.

Scientists from the National Cattlemen's Association say that based on extensive tests they've conducted, they do not believe it is possible injecting beef could cause an infection.

"The source of the illness has yet to be determined conclusively," said a statement from Stampede Beef.

Investigators want a definitive conclusion since the effects of E. coli can be so serious.

Katelyn Koesterer, who got infected from a hamburger, survived, but a stroke and multiple organ failure left her permanently disabled.