Beef Recall Smacks Of Incompetence
Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, October 10, 2006
Just in case you had the feeling only produce had food safety issues … we get a notice from the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service with a recall notice:
Jim’s Market and Locker, Inc., a Harlan, Iowa, firm, is voluntarily recalling approximately 5,226 pounds of ground beef that may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service announced today.
I confess that this recall seemed very odd. Because the release went on to say:
The ground beef products were produced on August 31 and September 1 and distributed to one retail establishment in Iowa and distributors in Georgia, Iowa, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New York, Texas and Wisconsin.
This recall was issued on October 6, well over a month after this product was produced. Test results don’t take that long. I suppose it is possible some consumer had it in his freezer and just got sick. But, no, the release also says:
The problem was discovered through microbiological testing. FSIS has received no reports of illnesses associated with consumption of this product.
So this really made no sense. Why would the USDA suddenly get microbiological tests back on 35-day-old product?
Apparently, Jim Goeser, owner of Jim’s Market and Locker, Inc., didn’t think it made much sense either. Here is the release his firm put out:
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The owner of an Iowa meat company says the federal government has needlessly requested that he recall 5,200 pounds of meat that he claims is safe and has likely already been consumed by thousands of people across seven states.
Jim Goeser, owner of Jim’s Market and Locker Inc., said tests have negated the government’s claim that his meat may have the same E. coli strain responsible for three deaths in the recent outbreak of contaminated spinach.
Goeser said he voluntarily issued the recall Friday after federal inspectors questioned the testing methods used by a slaughterhouse in Omaha, Nebraska.
No illnesses have been reported and none likely will, he said.
”We are absolutely confident as we can be that the meat is as clean as it can be,” Goeser told The Associated Press on Saturday.
The Harlan-based company produced the ground beef patties and packages Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, and sent it to distributors in Georgia, Iowa, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New York, Texas and Wisconsin, and to one retail outlet in Iowa, said the U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service.
The service said customers who bought the products affected by the recall should return them to the place of purchase.
Goeser said he doesn’t expect many returns, since the meat had a 25-day window for consumption that ended last month.
In an interview with Pundit investigator Mira Slott, Goeser elaborated:
Our situation is this:
We had USDA compliance officers in here this week. We accounted for all 5,200 pounds, which went out of code Sept 26th. The retailer won’t keep one-pound bricks of beef around when the product code has expired. The danger is over.
We think USDA over-reacted late in the game, and not fast enough — 35 or more days after the situation would have warranted it. Now we have 7 more negative tests on the same lot of the same product, following our first negative test on the materials. We’re proving our product is safe.
If USDA had a question, they should have directed it first to the people that slaughter the animals, and those that also cut up the animals. We take over the grinding and vacuum-packing functions. We’re on the tail end of it, but everything is being pointed at us.
It’s a cruel world out there. We’re compiling these negative tests.
To my knowledge, the cows for these products were slaughtered August 25. They were processed in a plant in Omaha on August 28 or 29. We picked up the product then. On August 29, the USDA did not hold anything up. We have negative test on trimmings we used. When we ground the product in question, we put a 25-day code on it.
All the product in question went out of code Sept 26. That was the sell by date. We’re talking 35 or 36 days after the cows were processed for a recall request, and the product at this time was already out of date. We’re compiling negative tests.
I can’t tell you the scientific explanation behind it, but if it is the E. coli 0157:H7 strain, it doesn’t make a difference if it is on spinach or beef. It’s the same thing. If you cook it to 160 degrees, it is killed.
I don’t think the USDA and FDA can ever really be sure if the E. coli-related deaths and sicknesses were from spinach or beef or other products. It’s the same strain. You can go over and over the samples in the lab, and there’s always some doubt.
What if a consumer froze the beef for consumption at a later date? Well, that could be the case. Freezing won’t kill it, but cooking it to 160 degrees will.
The Pundit doesn’t know if this meat had E. coli or not. But the attitude of the government is one of great arrogance. They feel no need to explain anything. It looks to me as if someone at the Food Safety and Inspection Service wasn’t doing their job.
If you are going to recall product after 35 days, it means the public has been vulnerable for 35 days. Who wasn’t paying attention? The Public has a right to know.