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Kanagawa government: Bacteria in frozen cutlets sickens 17

Seventeen people fell ill in Kanagawa Prefecture after eating frozen cutlets tainted with a deadly strain of E. coli
Seventeen people fell ill in Kanagawa Prefecture after eating frozen cutlets tainted with a deadly strain of E. coli (TBS News)

KANAGAWA (TR) – Seventeen people fell ill after eating store-bought frozen cutlets contaminated with the bacteria E. coli, NHK quoted prefectural officials here as saying on Monday (November 1).

Seventeen people ranging in age from 1 to 79 reported symptoms like stomach pain and diarrhea after eating a frozen minced pork cutlet product by meat retailer Niku no Ishikawa sold in supermarkets with an expiry date of February 26, 2017, which Kanagawa prefectural officials said were found to contain an E. coli strain called O157.

Two of the 17 affected people, a 5-year-old boy and an 8-year-old girl, were hospitalized with particularly severe symptoms, officials said.

O157 is a particularly dangerous strain of E. coli that is known to cause severe kidney damage and diarrhea that can last for as much as 10 days.

The O157 E. coli strain is lethal for the elderly and children with fragile health, according to the Japan Food Hygiene Association (JFHA).

A JFHA official told Nippon News Network that “it could be one of the possibilities” that the cutlets were not sufficiently heated.

“[The strain] should be killed if the ‘middle’ bit of minced cutlets like these ones are heated at 75 degrees Centigrade for at least a minute,” the JFHA official said.

The cutlet product in question is meant to be fried in oil at home, raising questions as to why the heat failed to kill the strain which is said to be highly contagious but weak to heat.

Kanagawa prefecture’s health center detected the O157 strain in the 17 affected victims, and also found the pathogen in frozen cutlets that were yet to be sold.

Niku no Ishikawa contracted out the frozen cutlets to a company in Shizuoka Prefecture, and sold a total of 2,010 cutlets to 26 branches of major supermarket Ito-Yokado in Kanagawa and Chiba prefectures.

Kanagawa prefectural officials are urging “anyone who bought them to refrain from eating them and ensure you contact the retailer.”

‘Should be no problems’

Yoshio Ishikawa, representative director of Niku no Ishikawa, said he “sincerely apologizes from my heart for causing such worries in light of health risk reports” in a company statement.

“These minced cutlets are products that require a sufficient amount of heat, so there should be no problems if they are prepared in accordance with the preparation guidelines,” Ishikawa said in the statement. “But regretfully, this incident could have been prevented if there were indications that raw meat is used or the instructions were written more clearly. I hope customers will let us handle the situation in good faith.”