• Kyodo

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A total of 129 people in seven prefectures have been infected with E. coli bacteria believed to have come from Takizawa Ham Co. meat products, Chiba Prefectural Government health officials said Saturday.

The number infected with the O-157 strain of the bacteria will probably increase as more people undergo checkups following calls by local authorities, the officials said.

In late March, the company stopped selling the products made at its factory in the city of Tochigi in Tochigi Prefecture after it was discovered they caused food-poisoning in a number of people.

While the largest number of victims are in Chiba Prefecture, illnesses have also been reported in Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama, Gunma, Ibaraki and Yamagata prefectures.

Officials believe Takizawa Ham began selling the tainted raw meat products — minced meat and roast beef — in early March. An official said, “Bacteria kept increasing in sample meat (at supermarkets) because meat used as samples is left untouched for a long time.”

Many of the victims bought the products or ate samples at outlets of York Mart, an affiliate of supermarket operator Ito-Yokado Co. Several victims, many of them infants, have become seriously ill from the infection.

The Tochigi Prefectural Government, which ordered the company in early April to halt operations at the Tochigi factory, was investigating how the meat products became infected.

It has not yet been established whether the meat was infected before being imported from the United States or whether it was contaminated at the factory, Tochigi prefectural officials said.

A Chiba prefectural health official said, “Food producers, distributors and consumers are encouraged to obtain more information on food-poisoning to prevent a further spread of the infection.”

Takizawa Ham and York Mart said their employees have started visiting victims to apologize for the incident, adding that many are very angry.

E. coli bacteria caused a massive outbreak of food-poisoning in Sakai, Osaka Prefecture, in 1996, killing three schoolgirls and sickening more than 9,000 people, mainly in western Japan.

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