Header graphic for print
Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

I was wrong, FSIS gets bad news out nearly every day of the week

When Cargill Meat Solutions and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) recalled approximately 8,500 pounds of ground beef products that was contaminated with E. coli O26 just after midnight on August 28, 2010, I was convinced that it was a plot to get bad news out when no one was watching. I was wrong, the FSIS gets bad news out on every day – even Sundays (but less so). Here are several charts that illustrate the point and one that does it best:

Screen shot 2010-09-08 at 7.08.24 PM.png

  • Carl Custer

    Interesting. Much of that consistency is the 7-day lab staffing.
    In the olden days (when I worked in the lab and dinosaurs ruled the Earth) most samples were started on Monday, reported negative on Wednesday, or confirmed positive on Friday. Epidemiological samples were different. Those were started on receipt (what a relief when I started working downtown and didn’t have to go to the lab Christmas morning — holidays are “hot outbreak times).
    That sample starting schedule prevailed up to the late 90′s when FSIS scheduled regular weekend lab work. Still, most positives were reported on Friday afternoon (and the staffers on recall duty sometimes worked into the night or Saturday . . . for free . . . before comp time was implemented.)
    The popularity of Friday is due to samples being shipped by Inspectors on Monday, received on Tuesday, and faster confirmation methods (Well, you know it’s always something).

  • http://opitslinkfest.blogspot.com/ John Farnham

    I don’t think there’s going to be any shortage of ‘work’ for a while.
    A raw milk advocate and a retired Ohio farmer formed the majority of articles in 2 posts August 13, 2009. Plus the Topical index in my sidebar contains wild scary ideas under Water – Wealth & Power. Grist was bad enough a few years ago, saying the Mississippi River Basin aquifer was contaminated with agricultural pharmaceuticals and pesticides from CAFO ( feedlot ) operations.
    Corporate farming is a links category too…and might as well be spelled pharmacide.

  • John Munsell

    More important than which days of the week are highly favored by FSIS to release bad news, is exactly what the agency does with evidence accompanying the bad news, that is, what actions if any does the agency take when confronted with bad news from one of their USDA-inspected plants.
    On 3 consecutive days in February, 2002, FSIS collected samples of my ground beef and were tested by USDA labs, and all 3 were designated as positive for E.coli 0157:H7. Adverse lab determinations were made and released on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I expected a phalanx of FSIS investigators to descend on my plant on the following Monday to commence enforcement actions. To my amazement, none came, and I received no calls from those paragon protectors of public health. I braced for a guaranteed Tuesday onslaught. Again, none came, nor did any agency official even call. Why did the agency display such callous disregard, in spite of the fact that my plant had produced adulterated ground beef on not one, but 3 days, in consecutive fashion? Egads, they could have thrown me behind bars, and thrown away the keys.
    Answer: because the inspector who collected those samples had copiously documented (against agency policy) the SOURCE of the hot meat, which was Est 969, which was ConAgra’s plant in Greeley, CO. FSIS is paralyzed with fear of litigation from the largest packers, which explains why the agency reacts slowly, if at all, when confronted with incontrovertible evidence which proves that a big plant is producing adulterated/contaminated meat. Now, if the meat had emanated from my own kill floor, rest assured that FSIS would have immediately shuttered my very small plant, while I attempted to implement corrective actions to prevent recurrences (good luck, since I held no control over the wholesomeness of meat I purchased from source slaughter providers).
    Bottom line: the agency could care less which day of the week adverse lab test results are produced. Instead, the agency is focused on the level of discomfort associated with agency enforcement actions against the alleged perpetrators. If a big plant is the culprit, FSIS is fully compliant with its pre-HACCP promises to the industry which included the agency’s “Hands Off” non-involvement role under HACCP, the agency’s refusal to police the big packers (while the packers police themselves), and the agency’s promise to disband its previous command and control authority which evaporated upon HACCP’s arrival. The agency treats the big packers with respect, as these multinational behemoths constitute a formidable litigation adversary. Conversely, small plants are much easier prey, and the agency fearlessly places these relatively hapless plants at the top of agency radar.
    Welcome to deregulated meat inspection, courtesy of HACCP. 93% of all USDA-inspected plants are small plants, and they produce only 10% of our domestic meat. This means that although the big plants only represent 7% of federally-inspected plants, they nonetheless produce 90% of our meat. Cogitate on that! 7% of our plants produce 90% of our meat. As the 90% figure continues to increase, Americans have become accustomed to ongoing recalls and outbreaks, a new part of our domestic lifestyle. Ho-hum. But, these outbreaks and recalls are not caused by apathetic Americans, nor by the alleged indifference displayed by consumers who fail to fully cook all pathogens out of our meat. We must remember that E.coli and Salmonella are deposited onto carcasses via sloppy kill floor dressing procedures, while the recumbent FSIS bureaucrats ensure that the big packers are liberated to police themselves.
    Our problems are NOT created by tardy agency lab procedures, or by the agency’s predetermined scheduling for release of bad news. Rather, our food safety problems emanate from sloppy conditions at the big packer kill floors, aided and abbetted by an agency which has lost the will to oversee big operations. What the agency doesn’t see won’t kill agency officials. However, what the agency doesn’t see does sicken consumers. Who cares?
    John Munsell