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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Another Friday Night FSIS Recall – this time E. coli in Beef

Screen Shot 2011-08-12 at 9.02.29 PM.pngFrom Slate:

Investors and journalists have long complained that companies release bad news—a failed product trial, a recall, a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation—on Fridays, particularly after the market closes. The Friday release is a transparent attempt to evade fallout by burying bad news ahead of the weekend.”

How true!

On Friday, July 29 at 8:30 PM Eastern, the FSIS “informed” the public that 77 people were sick in 26 from Salmonella Heidelberg in turkey burger. And, that was it until days later when eventually Cargill recalled nearly 36,000,000 pounds of tainted turkey. To date over 100 people have been sickened and 1 died.

So, I really was not that surprised when the FSIS posted a press release that National Beef Packing Co. LLC, a Dodge City, Kan., establishment, was recalling approximately 60,424 pounds (30 tons) of ground beef products that may be adulterated with E. coli O157:H7, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced today.

The products subject to recall include:

Ground beef chubs produced on July 23, 2011 with a Freeze by Date of August 12, 2011:

• Boxes containing six 10-pound chubs of “National Beef 80/20 Fine Ground Chuck.” These can be identified by the product code 483.

• Boxes containing eight 5-pound chubs of “National Beef 80/20 Fine Ground Chuck.” These can be identified by the product code 684.

• Boxes containing twelve 3-pound chubs of “National Beef 80/20 Fine Ground Chuck.” These can be identified by the product code 782 or 785.

• Boxes containing six 10-pound chubs of “National Beef 80/20 Fine Ground Chuck.” These can be identified by the product code 787.

Ground beef chubs produced on July 25, 2011 with a Freeze by Date of August 14, 2011:

• Boxes containing eight 10-pound chubs of “National Beef 81/19 Fine Ground Beef.” These can be identified by the product code 431.

• Boxes containing eight 10-pound chubs of “National Beef 90/10 Fine Ground Beef.” These can be identified by the product code 471.

• Boxes containing six 10-pound chubs of “National Beef 86/14 Fine Ground Round.” These can be identified by the product code 494.

Each box and chub bears the establishment number “Est. 262” within the USDA mark of inspection. The products were shipped to distributors nationwide for further processing and/or distribution. It is important to note that the products listed above may have been repackaged into consumer-size packages and sold under different retail brand names. When available, the retail distribution list(s) will be posted on FSIS’ website at www.fsis.usda.gov/FSIS_Recalls/Open_Federal_Cases/index.asp.

The problem was discovered as a result of routine microbial testing conducted by the Ohio Department of Agriculture at a state-inspected facility that had purchased these products for further processing. A traceback investigation revealed that the slaughter facility, National Beef Packing Co. products were the sole source for the positive product sample. FSIS and the company have received no reports of illnesses associated with consumption of these products. Individuals concerned about an illness should contact a physician.

  • Joh

    Admittedly, some folks criticize me for my suggestion that we need to trace back to the SOURCE, if we want to prevent future recurrences. My opponents include top officials at FSIS in DC as well. Let’s consider this recall as a case in point.
    The further processing plant in Ohio was indeed producing ground beef which was laced with E.coli O157:H7, a known killer. How has FSIS traditionally responded when it discovered that the further processing plant was producing pathogen-laced meat? Answer: by accusing the plant of having failures in its HACCP Plan, requiring that the plant reassess its HACCP Plan and implement corrective actions to prevent recurrences. FSIS recurringly ignores Tracebacks to the SOURCE, and instead assesses all liability against the victimized downstream establishment which unwittingly purchased meat which was previously contaminated at its source supplier slaughter plant. Such inane agency actions do NOT protect and promote public health, because it insulates the true SOURCE from liability. Egads folks, ever wonder why we continue to experience ongoing outbreaks and recurring recalls? FSIS knowingly utilizes an Abandance of Caution, not an Abundance of Caution.
    In this case, Ohio officials discovered the E.coli contamination, and since Ohio does not face the artificial restrictions imposed on FSIS employees, Ohio performed the traceback to National Beef. FSIS has now been gifted with scientific evidence, and would be publicly villified if it failed to place pressure against a one of its own federal plants (National Beef) to conduct a recall. History has shown time and again that if FSIS testing results at a federal plant were positive for E.coli H7, FSIS refuses to trace back to the source, but assesses all enforcement actions at the DESTINATION facility, not at the SOURCE.
    USDA Sec Tom Vilsack gave a speech on Wed, Aug 3, in which he gave FSIS 90 days to develop meaningful traceback protocol. Timely, ain’t it! It’s been 13 years since the biggest plants implemented HACCP, and only now is FSIS pressured to develop science-based protocol which should have been part and parcel of any “Science Based” inspection system from day one!
    Perhaps we’re seeing a new attitude at FSIS, which will finally protect and promote public health, instead of promoting agency comfort, which has been provided in the past by insulating the agency from confronting the industry’s biggest players.
    What we don’t know, won’t hurt us.
    John Munsell

  • Art Davis

    The accusation that industry and government officials release more recalls on Friday than other days certainly is a widely held opinion. It is however only an opinion until backed by data. I suspect that Marler / Clark has the data in hand and the statistical analysis expertise in house to conclusively demonstrate the above accusation. For a pictorial analysis simply graph, for perhaps the last five or ten years, the number of recalls announced against the day of the week on which they were announced. For numerical proof run a simple analysis against the null hypothesis that recalls are announced equally on all days of the week. Assuming the results confirm the suspicion of excessive Friday announcements I think the argument would be much stronger than merely expressing what amounts to a widely held opinion.

  • Art – coming to Food Safety News soon. I certainly may have to eat my words if looked at critically – which I of course should do. However, watching these things happen over 20 years, it sure seems like the conventional wisdom applies. We shall see.