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Tainted beef danger draws health experts to Bay State

Public health officials from across the country are meeting in the Bay State to figure out how to deal with the growing problem of beef that is contaminated with drug-resistant salmonella.

The conference was called after nearly 50 people in the Northeast were stricken with salmonella DT 104 in 2003 and 2004. While no one died, many were hospitalized.

The contaminated ground beef came from dairy cattle processed at a commercial slaughterhouse inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. While authorities were able to track down the source, they were limited in protecting public health because of “insufficient’ regulatory authority.

“Unlike E.coli, there is no regulation to recall beef from supermarkets that is infected with the drug-resistant salmonella,” said George Saperstein, a veterinarian at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine in Boston. Saperstein said public health officials are discussing whether the salmonella risks are high enough to require changing how USDA ground beef is regulated.

“This is a question of whether the risk is significant enough to require a change in the way the product is regulated,” Saperstein said.