The possibility of mad cow disease in the U.S. beef supply struck home in Utah Friday afternoon when Fred Meyer stores asked customers to return recalled ground beef as a precaution. The product had been sold in four western states, including Utah.

Fred Meyer officials announced Friday afternoon in a press release, "In response to a voluntary recall by Vern's Moses Lake Meats of raw beef that may have been exposed to bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE or popularly labeled the "mad cow" disease,) Fred Meyer is asking customers of 75 stores in Oregon, southern Washington, Idaho and Utah to return the following product for full refunds.

"The targeted product is Interstate Meat, pre-packaged fresh ground beef patties with approximately one pound of 85 percent lean (15 percent fat) ground beef and a sell-by date of Dec. 25, 2003."

Although only eight cases, containing a total of 96 packages of ground beef patties, were subject to this recall, Fred Meyer chose to take a broader recall as a precautionary measure.

"The USDA stated that there is an extremely low likelihood that the beef that is being recalled contains any infectious agent," Fred Meyer spokesman Rob Boley told the Deseret Morning News. "Rather, the product is being recalled out of an abundance of caution. The USDA said it remains confident in the safety of our food supply and that the risk to human health from BSE is extremely low."

Fred Meyer, with headquarters in Portland, Ore., has a total of 134 stores in Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Idaho and Utah. In Utah, stores are in West Valley City, Sandy, Ogden, Logan, West Jordan, Bountiful and two in Salt Lake City. However, Boley said, the Sandy store does not sell groceries.

"It's a very small amount of recall," he said, indicating Fred Meyer also took some beef products off its shelves earlier in the week. "Now, we're zooming in."

He said that since the recall, Interstate has found upon government inspection that all its other products are safe.

Interstate also sold possibly contaminated ground beef to other stores, including Albertsons and Safeway. However, Safeway doesn't have any Utah stores and information on the Albertsons recall indicates that it includes only stores in Washington, Oregon and northern Idaho. Beef sold in Utah Albertsons stores is unaffected and considered safe, according to state health officials.

Utah's food supply is safe from mad cow disease, the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food said this week after the federal government announced that a cow in the state of Washington was suspected of having the disease.

While some consumer groups say that the United States didn't look hard enough for evidence of mad-cow disease, some risk analysis experts have claimed that the risk to humans is incredibly small — even if a worse-case scenario should develop.

According to the U.S. Department of Health Web site, www.fda.gov/oc/opacom/hottopics/bse.html, BSE is a disease that only affects cattle.

"However, there is a disease similar to BSE called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), or vCJD, which is found in humans. There have been a small number of cases of vCJD reported, primarily in the United Kingdom. They have occurred in people who consumed beef that may have been contaminated. (As of May 2003, there have been a total of approximately 139 cases of vCJD worldwide.)

"There is strong epidemiological and lab evidence that the agent that causes BSE in cattle is the agent that causes vCJD in people. The one reported case of vCJD in the United States was a young women that contracted the disease while residing in the UK. The symptoms appeared years later after the young woman moved to the U.S.

"The disease, vCJD, which primarily affects younger persons, is very hard to diagnose until the disease has nearly run its course. In its early stages, the disease may manifest itself through neurologic symptoms, but it is not until the latter stages of the disease that brain abnormalities detectable by X-ray or imaging equipment can be seen."


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