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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

JBS Swift Beef Company Recalls Ground Beef Products Due To Possible E. coli O157:H7 Contamination – Are There Illnesses Too?

Recall Release CLASS I RECALL
FSIS-RC-034-2009 HEALTH RISK: HIGH

JBS Swift Beef Company, a Greeley, Colo., establishment is recalling approximately 41,280 pounds of beef products that may be contaminated 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:

* Boxes of "USDA CHOICE OR HIGHER, Bnls Beef Bottom Sirloin, Butt Ball Tip 2/DN S/T." Each box bears the establishment number "EST. 969" inside the USDA mark of inspection, identifying package dates of "042109" or "042209" and a case code of "21852."
* Boxes of "USDA CHOICE OR HIGHER, Bnls Beef Bottom Sirloin, Butt Ball Tip 2/UP S/T." Each box bears the establishment number "EST. 969" inside the USDA mark of inspection, identifying package dates of "042109" or "042209" and a case code of "21853."
* Boxes of "Swift, Bnls Beef Bottom Sirloin, Butt Ball Tip 2/DN S/T." Each box bears the establishment number "EST. 969" inside the USDA mark of inspection, identifying package dates of "042109" or "042209" and a case code of "31852."
* Boxes of "Bnls Beef Bottom Sirloin, Butt Ball Tip 2/UP S/T." Each box bears the establishment number "EST. 969" inside the USDA mark of inspection, identifying package dates of "042109" or "042209" and a case code of "31853."
* Boxes of "Swift, USDA SELECT, Bnls Beef Bottom Sirloin, Butt Ball Tip 2/DN S/T." Each box bears the establishment number "EST. 969" inside the USDA mark of inspection, identifying package dates of "042109" or "042209" and a case code of "33852."
* Boxes of "USDA SELECT, Bnls Beef Bottom Sirloin, Butt Ball Tip 2/UP S/T." Each box bears the establishment number "EST. 969" inside the USDA mark of inspection, identifying package dates of "042109" or "042209" and a case code of "33853."
* Boxes of "BLACK ANGUS, Swift Premium, BEEF, USDA CHOICE OR HIGHER, Bnls Beef Bottom Sirloin, Butt Ball Tip 2/UP S/T." Each box bears the establishment number "EST. 969" inside the USDA mark of inspection, identifying package dates of "042109" or "042209" and a case code of "41853."
* Boxes of "BLACK ANGUS, Swift Premium, BEEF, USDA CHOICE OR HIGHER, Bnls Beef Bottom Sirloin, Butt Ball Tip 2/UP S/T." Each box bears the establishment number "EST. 969" inside the USDA mark of inspection, identifying package dates of "042109" or "042209" and a case code of "41853."
* Boxes of "Bnls Beef Bottom Sirloin, Butt Ball Tip 2/DN S/T." Each box bears the establishment number "EST. 969" inside the USDA mark of inspection, an identifying package date of "042109" and a case code of "79852."
* Boxes of "Bnls Beef Bottom Sirloin, Butt Ball Tip 2/UP S/T." Each box bears the establishment number "EST. 969" inside the USDA mark of inspection, an identifying package date of "042109" and a case code of "79853."
* Boxes of "USDA CHOICE OR HIGHER, Bnls Beef Bottom Sirloin, Butt Ball Tip 2/UP S/T." Each box bears the establishment number "EST. 969" inside the USDA mark of inspection, identifying package dates of "042109" or "042209" and a case code of "90853."

These beef products were produced on April 21 and 22, 2009, and were shipped to distributors and retail establishments in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah and Wisconsin.

Here is why I wonder if there are illnesses linked to this recalled beef:

The problem was discovered through FSIS microbiological sampling and an investigation into the distribution of other products.

FSIS micro sampling is a great way to catch problems, however, the wording "investigation into the distribution of other products," makes me wonder if that "investigation" was into illnesses?

  • John Munsell

    Unlike my recent posts about E.coli recalls, the meat plant involved this time not only is a slaughter facility, but is one of the biggest four slaughter companies (& multi-national) in America. Ironically, this is the same plant, albeit under a new name, which experienced a 19.1 million lb recall in June/July 2002. This new recall is a puzzler. FSIS blithely states that when intact cuts of meat, such as the Ball Tip Sirloins in this recall, are surface-contaminated with E.coli, the meat is not considered adulterated. I know, I know, I know, you don’t believe me…well, contact USDA for validation of that statement. Because of this official USDA policy, the agency knowingly allows slaughter plants to ship intact meat into commerce which is surface-contaminated with E.coli, with tacit agency approval. Yes, the boxes containing these 41,280 lbs of recalled Ball Tip meat proudly include the official USDA Mark of Inspection which states “USDA Inspected & Passed”. Realizing that FACT, then what business does FSIS have in performing microbiological testing on intact cuts of Ball Tip Sirloins which USDA allowed the Greeley plant to ship into commerce bearing the official Mark of Inspection? If the agency recalls such meat, it adheres to two contradictory standards! If the intact meat is not adulterated, how can it be recalled? Please remember that our current HACCP style of deregulated meat inspection is allegedly “SCIENCE BASED”. Phew, that’s a stretch! Secondly, assuming that the average size of the two & up and two & down Ball Tip Sirloins averaged 2.5 pounds in size, the recall involves 16,512 pieces of intact meat. Each beef produces two of these pieces. So, this means that 8,256 beef were required to provide this quantity of Ball Tip Sirloins. So what? Let’s ponder the consequences. These 16,512 pieces of meat were commingled with other cuts on the conveyor belts prior to vacuum packaging. Well, what about the other pieces of meat which were undoubtedly cross-contaminated with E.coli on those same production lines? No one would attempt to claim that the e.coli was not to be found on any other portions of those 8,256 animals! How about the trim from those animals, sold either as boneless trim, coarse ground beef or fine ground beef? Are we to assume that somehow, magically, the e.coli did not appear on the trim and burger, or on other intact beef cuts? Furthermore, we know that e.coli are found on the exterior surfaces of carcasses on kill floors. Well, ball tip sirloins are an INTERIOR cut, not found on the EXTERIOR of carcasses. Aha! Well then, how did these interior pieces become contaminated (not adulterated, mind you)with E.coli? These interior pieces had to come into contact with other pieces of meat, either intact pieces or trim. Well, is USDA requiring that the truly noncompliant pieces of meat which cross contaminated the Ball Tips be recalled also? This is Pandora’s Box folks, and perhaps USDA has not yet realized it has popped a lid it cannot close. Lastly, and I hesitate bringing this up, but the ball tips were sent to downstream customers in numerous states for further processing. Since the meat was shipped nine weeks ago, we must assume that most, if not all of the affected meat has already been processed, and much of it has been consumed. As is typical with recalls from large slaughter establishments, a miniscule amount will actually be recovered. That is not the point here. Anyone who has ever processed 2 & up and 2 & down Ball Tip Sirloins into steaks realizes that in addition to the steaks (typically sold as “petite sirloins”), a goodly amount of trim is also produced. It makes superlative stew, and produces a sizeable amount of ground beef. Now, this is where USDA typically jumps in, when the agency discovers that E.coli is in burger, which USDA considers to be an unhealthy product. When E.coli is on intact cuts, remember, USDA does NOT consider it an adulterant. Well, what does USDA propose to do with the volumes of steaks, stew and ground beef which has already been produced by all the downline further processing customers who unwittingly purchased intact ball tips from the Greeley plant which were previously laced with E.coli? Is this the long overdue straw which will break USDA’s back while it promotes its silly deregulated system of meat non-inspection at the large slaughter plants? In a directly-related topic, the scope of this recall clearly reveals the greatly increased risk factor associated with production at the largest slaughter establishments. Risk should be directly associated with volume of production, but USDA disagrees. The agency concludes that large plants which boast of a plethora of multi-hurdle anti-microbial pathogen intervention steps “must” be producing wholesome meat. And by extension, the snail-paced small plants must be producing unsanitary meat because the small plants haven’t invested millions of dollars into all these newest scientific marvels which are failing in grandiose fashion at the biggest plants. As long as Americans swallow USDA’s stance that deregulated HACCP is an improvement over our previous “Hands On” system of USDA oversight, consumers will continue to be imperiled, and Public Health will suffer. John Munsell

  • M B

    John Munsell states the facts very well. But let’s take a look at the ball-tip interior cuts. What if, hypothetically, an establishment utilized a surface antimicrobial treatment to cuts of meat as part of an intervention program. The cuts of meat which would need to be treated would only need to be the exterior cuts, where contamination would be present, correct? So if all exterior cuts were subject to spray by an anti-microbial treatment, then the company could save some pennies by not spraying the interior ball-cuts with no adverse impact on the consumer! Unless, of course, a point of cross-contamination in the process were observed. Or if the anti-microbial agent weren’t a Critical Control Point, a part of the HACCP process, but instead was pre-requisite program, the oversight might be less stringent. In fact, the establishment might be very open with the USDA that if the anti-microbial treatment isn’t operative, they don’t take any action. Of course no one could know for sure. Unless a FOIA request was filed for all Weekly USDA-Plant Meeting records from, hypothetically, May 2008 to current. Then we would probably know for sure.
    It would be interesting to see if there had been any other investigations conducted recently by FSIS at this establishment. Had there been other issues in the recent past (other than the nation’s largest recall). A FOIA request for any Food Safety Assessment records from June of 2008 through June of 2009 would probably be a good way to find this out.
    If problems had been known by FSIS, did the inspectors at the plant do their part to take action and report their concerns up the chain of command? A FOIA request for all written communications and reports from FSIS personnel at the establishment (Est. 00969M) and the Denver District Office, especially those communications which might explicitly request the issuance of a Notice Of Intended Enforcement (NOIE) or E.coli 0157:H7 positive test results from June 2008 to May 2009 would probably be insightful.
    And if the Denver District Office responded to the inspector’s concerns, did they send in professionals trained in the Enforcement Investigation Analysis techniques required to conduct such an investigations. I would wonder, who were these individuals, and what was their training.
    Until we know these things, we can really only speculate about what happened, again, at Est. 00969. But, yes, people did get hurt.

  • M B

    The problems which caused this had been known for a year by FSIS at the district level (if not higher). FSIS exhibitted gross Negligence to Protect the Public Health and bears a fair share of culpability in this matter.