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S. Korea Finds E. Coli in U.S. Beef

October 2, 1997

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) _ South Korea on Thursday suspended imports of beef from Nebraska after finding E. coli bacteria on beef bought from IBP Inc.

South Korean quarantine officials detected E. coli bacteria last week on the surface of the imported frozen and sliced beef.

The government immediately ordered a local importer to return or destroy 18 tons of Nebraska beef kept in warehouses, and launched expanded tests of all beef imported from the state.

The news scared away customers from restaurants serving beef and stores reported sharp drops in sales of imported beef.

On Thursday, Lee Young-rae, a deputy assistant minister of agriculture, said the government has blocked customs clearance for all Nebraska beef until the meat is found to be safe from contamination.

U.S. Department of Agriculture officials said the presence of E. coli on the outside of the beef does not violate U.S. regulations because the organism would be killed in cooking.

It would be a violation only if it were found in ground beef, where the organism could be mixed into the center and possibly escape the high heat required to kill it, they said.

U.S. quarantine experts planned to travel to South Korea for joint inspections, Agriculture Ministry officials said.

It is the first time that the bacteria has been found in imported beef.

About 97,000 pounds of beef has been imported from the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Canada in the first eight months of this year. U.S. beef accounted for 60 percent of the total.

South Korea plans to import 16,700 tons of beef this year.

Update hourly