Health alert as company withdraws beef in new E. coli scare

Health chiefs were on the alert last night to find whether American beef which may be infected with a potentially deadly bacteria had been sold in Hong Kong.

It is the second health scare in the SAR involving the same supplier in just over a year.

A Department of Health spokesman said yesterday it was checking to see if meat from Nebraska-based Iowa Beef Packers had been bought by retailers after the firm recalled 253 tonnes of ground beef over an E. coli scare.

A spokesman for the firm said: 'This particular produce has been shipped to customers in the United States. What our customers do with it then, we have no way of knowing.' E. coli can cause vomiting and diarrhoea and may even be fatal, although it can be destroyed if infected meat is cooked at a high enough temperature.

A health alert was sparked in October last year after more than a tonne of beef from Iowa Beef Packers, feared to have been infected with E. coli, was imported into Hong Kong. South Korea also banned sales from the company in the same month.

The firm, the world's largest processor of fresh beef, recalled the beef yesterday but said there was no brand name or product code for consumers to check.

A Health Department spokesman said: 'We are contacting the American Consulate in Hong Kong to see if it has been sold here and we are also checking our beef products in supermarkets.' A Hospital Authority spokesman said it was unaware of any recent cases of people being infected with E. coli bacteria.

This year, Iowa Beef Packers recalled a shipment of 128 tonnes of beef after a sample was found to be tainted with the bacteria.

This is the fifth beef scare to hit the SAR in just over a year, with three other cases of meat containing E. coli detected last year.