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SAUSAGE FIRMS EXAMINING E. COLI RISK

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Dangerous E. coli bacteria linked to ready-to-eat salami have sickened at least 18 people in California and Washington, prompting 250 makers of similar sausages to study whether the meats are safe.

The industry pledged to immediately test whether E. coli O157:H7 can survive the process used to make dry sausages like salami, which only involves meat curing, not cooking, the Agriculture Department announced late Friday.The department then will decide "whether process modifications ought to be adopted to ensure the safety of fermented products," said Thomas Billy of its Food Safety and Inspection Service.

The unprecedented industry move came as health officials said Friday that 19 people in Seattle-King County have come down with E. coli-O157:H7. Twelve have been laboratory-linked to salami recalled a week ago and three others are strongly suspected.

Three other cases didn't come from the salami and a fourth is unlikely, the health department's Dr. Russell Alexander announced late Friday.

In California, doctors have linked two E. coli cases in Sacramento and one in Sonoma County to the salami. A fourth case is suspected but hasn't been confirmed, said Dr. Ben Werner of the California Health Department.

Four patients are hospitalized, the most serious a 2-year-old King County girl undergoing kidney dialysis.

San Francisco Sausage Co. has recalled 10,000 pounds of sliced dry salami, the only type implicated. But it also told grocers to temporarily halt sales of any of its other dry salami brands, and ceased all salami production.

The brands, sold only in Washington, California and Oregon, include Columbus, Alpine, Pocino, Ticino, Buon Gusto, Campagne and Carando. But Werner warned that people may not know they have that salami because it is typically sold by delicatessens in unmarked paper.