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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Meat safety still a hot-button issue

The Associated Press did an interesting article on a Montana man named John Munsell who wants out of the meat processing business and is trying to sell the meat processing plant his father started decades ago. All of this comes after the ConAgra recall and the USDA’s claims that his plant’s food protection efforts are lax.
From the article:

In early 2002, a U.S. Department of Agriculture inspector found beef contaminated with the potentially deadly E. coli O157:H7 bacteria at Munsell’s plant. He insisted that contaminated meat didn’t come from his own plant and accused the USDA of failing to trace the beef to the large meatpacker who sent it to him.
Munsell said he told the USDA he knew the tainted beef came from ConAgra, but contends the agency didn’t follow up. An FSIS official, in testimony before a congressional field hearing in December 2002, said the source of contamination couldn’t be identified because Munsell’s records couldn’t “definitively verify” a single beef source was used.
Munsell claims that after he criticized the USDA’s investigation, the agency retaliated by demanding he rewrite repeatedly a plan detailing possible hazards and controls at his plant.

The article goes on to discuss changes made by the FSIS and the decline in E. coli recalls since the ConAgra outbreak:

Steven Cohen, an FSIS spokesman, said the agency has enacted numerous changes since the E. coli outbreak, including improved training for inspectors and requiring greater accountability from supervisors. Plants that do their own testing are no longer exempt from agency testing, and FSIS is moving toward increased testing at higher-volume facilities, he said.
The ConAgra outbreak was a major tipping point for the meat industry and its commitment to dealing with E. coli, said Bill Marler, an attorney who’s handled e. coli cases and represented many who ate tainted beef in 2002.

But not everyone agrees that America’s food supply is safer.

Barbara Kowalcyk, a biostatistician and president-elect of the group Safe Tables Our Priority, refuses to read too much into the figures. Kowalcyk — whose toddler son, Kevin, died in 2001 due to E. coli — says it’s still unclear how much credit the industry deserves.
“To say that the overall incidence is down and that meat is safer, I don’t think is accurate,” she said.