Meat served at firefighter’s fundraiser source of E. coli O157:H7; sickens 27

Pamela Sage told California’s Contra Costa Times that it’s hard to believe tri-tip served at a Sept. 6 benefit barbecue to support volunteer firefighters made at least 27 people sick with E. coli O157:H7.

Sage said if the bacteria really did come from the meat or other food served at the event, she and the other firefighters would be glad to take responsibility for it, but the meat was handled with great care, meat thermometers were used to ensure it was done, and it was served with tongs. Sage also said the Public Health Department had acted irresponsibly in identifying the tri-tip as the source of the bacteria when officials still weren’t sure.

That was two weeks ago.

On Monday, Butte County Public Health confirmed that E. coli O157:H7 grown form leftover samples of the tri-tip meat were a genetic match with samples from sick people.

Epidemiology remains a powerful tool.

Dr. Mark Lundberg, Butte County health officer said it’s still not known how the cooked meat became contaminated, and it may never be known.

Food preparers at the event had the right equipment and, according to interviews, seemed to do everything right, he said, but obviously something went wrong.

When large amounts of food are prepared there is the potential for contamination, he said. It’s possible the cooked meat came into contact with juices from the raw meat. Or possibly, he said, someone who helped prepare the food was sick and didn’t wash his or her hands properly.

Bill Marler says an intact cut like tri-tip could became contaminated during the tenderizing process.