Norway’s dominant meat producer Gilde and the national Food Safety Authority were reeling in the wake of a virulent E. coli outbreak blamed for kidney failure in 11 children in recent weeks. One child has died as a result.

Preben Aavitsland, divisional director of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health told newspaper Aftenposten that a new and aggressive strain of E. coli could be behind the unusual number of cases of HUS (Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome).

Despite intensive efforts, a definitive source of the E. coli 0103 bacteria, which the FSA still confidently links to Gilde ground (minced) beef, has yet to be proven.

The FSA forced the early recall of one production lot from Gilde facilities in Rushøgda. A recent discovery at the Lidl chain of E. coli contamination in ground beef sold under a different brand name but likely stemming from another Gilde slaughterhouse, may help trace the actual source of the contamination.

The FSA has now admitted that it should have issued a broad warning against eating ground beef rather than limiting its ban to the single lot suspected of being tainted.

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Yesterday (15 March), Norwegian media reported that Gilde sold several tons of beef known to be contaminated with the dangerous E. coli strain to industrial customers, and this sale was cleared by the FSA. Gilde and the FSA considered instructions about proper preparation of the meat sufficient to guarantee the destruction of the bacteria, a conclusion now queried by Norway’s Consumer Council.

The intensive national search by the FSA for the contamination source has uncovered other unsavoury aspects of Norway’s meat industry, including a slaughterhouse caught preparing dog food with bacteria levels 30,000 times higher than recommended levels side by side with conventional products for human consumption.

Gilde, a massive cooperative owned by about 27,500 farmers, said sales of ground beef were down 20% for the second week since the outbreak.