The Pennsylvania Department of Health is investigating illnesses across the state that could be linked to an E. coli contamination of frozen hamburger patties produced by Topps Meat Co.

“There have been four cases associated with the possibly contaminated (Topps) hamburgers,” said department spokeswoman Stacy Kriedeman. “We’re still in the process of investigating.”

Two of the people were initially hospitalized, but all are now recovering, she said.

The cases were reported in Centre, Cumberland, Northampton and Philadelphia counties.

Topps, based in Elizabeth, N.J., has recalled more than 165 tons – or 331,582 pounds – of frozen hamburgers after two instances of E. coli-related illnesses in New York and another in Florida.

The same strain of E. coli was found in people who had fallen ill after eating Topps brand hamburgers, and in the frozen patties still in their freezers.

“This is the first recall in the company’s 65-year history,” said company spokeswoman Cortney McMahon. “Topps is continuing to cooperate fully” with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is investigating the possible contamination.

The DNA fingerprint of the bacteria found in each of the four individuals in the commonwealth matched the one found in the confirmed cases, Kriedeman said, and all four told officials they ate Topps hamburgers before feeling ill.

In seven other states 14 cases have been reported and are under investigation, said Amanda Eamich, spokeswoman for the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.

Topps has since issued a recall of products sold under several names.

They include:

¦ Topps 100% Pure Ground Beef Hamburgers with the sell-by dates June 22, 2008; July 12, 2008; or July 23, 2008.

¦ Butcher’s Best 100% All Beef Patties with the date July 23, 2008.

¦ Kohler Foods Flat Hamburgers with the date July 23, 2008.

¦ Sand Castle Fine Meat, 100% Premium Beef Hamburgers with the packed-on date June 22, 2007.

¦ Westside 100% Premium Hamburgers with a sell-by date of June 22, 2008.

Locally, Price Chopper Supermarkets, Weis Markets and Wal-Mart stores carry Topps products, according to company representatives and the Topps Web site.

Price Chopper removed all Topps products from its shelves before stores opened Tuesday as a precaution, and is offering refunds to customers who purchased them.

Weis Markets’ quality control experts reported the company’s stores do not sell the product line or lines that were potentially contaminated, said spokesman Dennis Curtin.

Efforts to reach Wal-Mart representatives were unsuccessful Wednesday.

For a list of the brands affected by the recall, click here.

nsohr@citizensvoice.com, 570-821-2052

 ©The Citizens Voice 2007