As of this week, according to the CDC, a total of 16 persons infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Typhimurium have been reported from Hawaii (1), Kentucky (1), Massachusetts (1), Maine (4), New Hampshire (4), New York (4), and Vermont (1). In response to those illnesses Hannaford, a Scarborough, Maine-based grocery chain, recalled an undetermined amount of fresh ground beef products that may be contaminated with Salmonella Typhimurium, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced last week. However, FSIS raised concerns about its ability to trace the tainted beef to its source. According to FSIS:
Based on an examination of Hannaford’s limited records, FSIS was unable to determine responsible suppliers. FSIS recently identified this problem at the retail level and is pursuing rulemaking to address the concern. This recall is being issued as part of a continuing investigation. FSIS has not yet been able to identify FSIS-regulated suppliers of raw beef ground at Hannaford Stores related to the outbreak that could be subject to recall action.
A study in August 2011 edition of the Journal of Food Protection showed that tracing back the ground beef to its origin might have been possible had the supermarket studied taken two key steps:
1. Kept meat from different suppliers separate, and
2. Maintained more detailed grinding records.
Researchers found that because the supermarket chain ground and then mixed meat from multiple sources, “it is likely that individual ground beef products were routinely commingled with the next batch of ground beef, although incomplete grinding logs at some store locations hindered conclusive findings on this point.”
Food producers who grind meat on-site should know exactly where all the batches came from, as well as record when they were ground, so that customers’ purchases can be traced back more efficiently during investigations of foodborne illness, the study suggests.
“Detailed grinding logs are essential for the successful traceback of contaminated beef when implicated in outbreaks and to allow focused, detailed, and prompt recalls to prevent additional infections,” says the report.
The review also pointed out that grinding outlets did not clean their meat grinders between batches, another factor that likely contributed to the comingling of contaminated beef with clean beef, and made it impossible to identify the source of the tainted meat. Supermarkets should change their protocol to include these precautionary measures, the authors recommend.
Hannaford had a duty to provide its customers with meat that was not tainted. It now owes an obligation to the pubic at large to release its grinding logs and names of all meat suppliers linked to Salmonella outbreak. It is only when this is done that the source of the Salmonella contamination can be discovered.
According to the CDC, most persons infected with Salmonella bacteria develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days, and most persons recover without treatment. However, in some persons, the diarrhea may be so severe that the patient needs to be hospitalized. Salmonella infection may spread from the intestines to the bloodstream and then to other body sites and can cause death unless the person is treated promptly with antibiotics. Older adults, infants, and those with impaired immune systems are more likely to have a severe illness from Salmonella infection.