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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

So, what is the deal with E. coli O157:H7 and Meat Imports?

According to US Customs, in 2007, the United States imported 3.048 billion pounds of beef or 10.7% of the overall beef consumption for the year. That amount was slightly lower than in 2006 and about 500 million pounds less than in 2005 and 2004.  According to the latest USDA WASDE report, total beef imports were expected to increase by 7.3% in 2009 compared to 2008 levels but still be as much as 12.2% lower than what they were in 2007.  I assume, but need to confirm, that much of the imports are trim which is added into our hamburgers:

Screen shot 2010-12-08 at 8.21.54 PM.png

I have not been able to yet find the 2010 import data.  Here is some direct data from USDA on imports – see, USDA – Cattle and Beef Imports:

U.S. cattle imports from all sources:

• 2007: 2.495 million head

• 2008: 2.284 million head

• 2009: 2.002 million head

Beef and veal imports from all sources (carcass weight):

• 2007: 3.052 billion pounds

• 2008: 2.538 billion pounds

• 2009: 2.627 billion pounds

I did, however, find data from FSIS on E. coli O157:H7 testing on both domestic and imported products.  Call me crazy, but it looks like imports are having an ongoing and sustained problem:

FSISImports.jpg

The data provided by FSIS shows a dramatically larger percentage of imported raw ground beef (RGB) and raw ground beef components (RGBC) testing positive for E. coli O157:H7 than domestically produced meat.  As seen in the graph, US producers have far lower percentages of meat testing positive for E. coli O157:H7, despite the large number of tests performed. FSIS performs testing on random samples of imported raw ground beef and components for E. coli O157:H7 upon entry to the U.S.

The number of test over the past three years has varied greatly with only 38 and 29 tests on RGB in 2008 and 2010, and 101 tests on RGB in 2009. The small number of tests compared to domestic beef denotes the perhaps relatively small quantity of beef entering the U.S. ground, but the high percentage of contamination is still worrisome. The 2010 increase in percentage foreign RGBC contamination stands in contrast to the domestic reductions. This is especially dangerous and the imported RGBC become mixed with the domestic supply, undermining the security measures in place.

Sources:

http://www.ers.usda.gov/news/BSECoverage.htm

http://www.fsis.usda.gov/Science/Ecoli_Raw_Beef_Testing_Data_YTD/index.asp

Honestly, I have not been known for my love of the United States Beef Industry. But, even here I may question what we are doing on imported beef products.  Questions remain – why are imported products allowed to have such high E. coli O157:H7 content?  Does it have something to do with the need of United States manufacturers for trim?  Does it have anything to do with the multi-national make-up of beef manufacturers or beef customers or both?  However you look at it, beef production in this country is big business, very big business – see, USDA – U.S. Cattle and Beef Industry, 2007-2009:

• Retail equivalent value of U.S. beef industry:

2007: $74 billion

2008: $76 billion

2009: $73 billion

• Total U.S. beef consumption:

2007: 28.1 billion pounds

2008: 27.3 billion pounds

2009: 26.9 billion pounds

• U.S. beef production (commercial carcass weight):

2007: 26.42 billion pounds

2008: 26.56 billion pounds

2009: 26.07 billion pounds

• U.S. beef exports (commercial carcass weight and value):

2007: 1.433 billion pounds, $2.186 billion

2008: 1.887 billion pounds, $2.972 billion

2009: 1.868 billion pounds, $2.828 billion

  • Minkpuppy

    I noticed the same trends while working as an imports inspector over the last couple of years.
    One particular importer insisted on continuing to bring in beef trimmings from multiple establishments that had consistently failed E. coli Testing conducted by FSIS inspectors.
    In many cases, the originating country even provided certificates of analysis that declared that their testing had found no E.coli 0157:H7 yet our testing in the US on the same lots of product showed positive results. I know of at least 2 establishments that were finally delisted after nearly a dozen positive results over 2008-2009 time frame.
    It’s definitely “buyer beware” for US grinders that still use imported beef trimmings. A certificate of analysis sometimes isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on especially if additional testing in the US finds E. coli present.
    It may interest you to know that a certain fast food giant imports a large amount of beef trimmings to be ground into their burgers.

  • Karen
  • Thanks Karen

  • Gabrielle Meunier

    Thanks Minkpuppy for the heads up. It would be really helpful to know what fast food giant imports those beef trimmings. My Christopher just recently started eating hamburgers. Thats all we would need is to have him eat an e-coli infested burger.

  • From a Friend:
    2009 Jan – Sep 2009 Jan – Sep 2010
    Partner Product UOM Qty Qty Qty Period/Period %
    Change (Qty)
    1 Canada 1 020130 – Bovine Boneless Fr/C MT 237158.2 177412.1 198819.2 12
    1 Canada 2 020120 – Bovine Bone In Fr/Ch MT 19576.2 14467.1 20816.9 44
    1 Canada 3 020230 – Bovine Boneless Froz MT 13854.2 11810.1 9447.3 -20
    1 Canada 4 020110 – Bovine Carcass Fr/Ch MT 3852.5 3013.3 2400.9 -20
    1 Canada 5 020220 – Bovine Bone In Froz MT 2526.1 1994.5 2414.2 21
    2 Australia(!) 1 020230 – Bovine Boneless Froz MT 230304.7 187971.6 132868.7 -29
    2 Australia(!) 2 020130 – Bovine Boneless Fr/C MT 32318.4 24642.7 19978.9 -19
    2 Australia(!) 3 020120 – Bovine Bone In Fr/Ch MT 360.7 290.7 97.6 -66
    2 Australia(!) 4 020220 – Bovine Bone In Froz MT 221.9 138.4 127 -8
    2 Australia(!) 5 020110 – Bovine Carcass Fr/Ch MT 1.3 1.3 0 —
    3 Australia(*) 1 020230 – Bovine Boneless Froz MT 230304.7 187971.6 132868.7 -29
    3 Australia(*) 2 020130 – Bovine Boneless Fr/C MT 32318.4 24642.7 19978.9 -19
    3 Australia(*) 3 020120 – Bovine Bone In Fr/Ch MT 360.7 290.7 97.6 -66
    3 Australia(*) 4 020220 – Bovine Bone In Froz MT 221.9 138.4 127 -8
    3 Australia(*) 5 020110 – Bovine Carcass Fr/Ch MT 1.3 1.3 0 —
    4 New Zealand(!) 1 020230 – Bovine Boneless Froz MT 168237.2 142945.2 134441.7 -6
    4 New Zealand(!) 2 020130 – Bovine Boneless Fr/C MT 1258.6 1136.6 1335.8 18
    4 New Zealand(!) 3 020220 – Bovine Bone In Froz MT 58.5 58.5 39 -33
    4 New Zealand(!) 4 020120 – Bovine Bone In Fr/Ch MT 2.9 2.5 0.9 -64
    5 New Zealand(*) 1 020230 – Bovine Boneless Froz MT 168237.2 142945.2 134441.7 -6
    5 New Zealand(*) 2 020130 – Bovine Boneless Fr/C MT 1258.6 1136.6 1335.8 18
    5 New Zealand(*) 3 020220 – Bovine Bone In Froz MT 58.5 58.5 39 -33
    5 New Zealand(*) 4 020120 – Bovine Bone In Fr/Ch MT 2.9 2.5 0.9 -64
    6 Nicaragua 1 020230 – Bovine Boneless Froz MT 24571.7 17187.5 19969.5 16
    6 Nicaragua 2 020130 – Bovine Boneless Fr/C MT 5034.3 3521.7 4003.6 14
    6 Nicaragua 3 020220 – Bovine Bone In Froz MT 83.6 35.6 83.9 136
    7 Mexico 1 020120 – Bovine Bone In Fr/Ch MT 12681.1 9631.7 14369.5 49
    7 Mexico 2 020130 – Bovine Boneless Fr/C MT 8923.7 6358.9 12632.5 99
    7 Mexico 3 020230 – Bovine Boneless Froz MT 1537.3 1169.4 671.9 -43
    7 Mexico 4 020220 – Bovine Bone In Froz MT 1006 976.8 216.3 -78
    8 Uruguay 1 020230 – Bovine Boneless Froz MT 19726.6 14839.3 10359.9 -30
    8 Uruguay 2 020130 – Bovine Boneless Fr/C MT 2868.5 2388.3 1643 -31
    9 Costa Rica 1 020230 – Bovine Boneless Froz MT 5743.8 4217.6 4732.6 12
    9 Costa Rica 2 020130 – Bovine Boneless Fr/C MT 1902.6 1332.8 1071.5 -20
    9 Costa Rica 3 020220 – Bovine Bone In Froz MT 39.8 39.8 20.9 -48
    10 Honduras 1 020230 – Bovine Boneless Froz MT 1540.5 968.5 589.2 -39
    10 Honduras 2 020130 – Bovine Boneless Fr/C MT 36.5 18.9 188 897
    10 Honduras 3 020220 – Bovine Bone In Froz MT 1 0 0 —
    11 Chile 1 020230 – Bovine Boneless Froz MT 711.3 562.5 1001.5 78
    11 Chile 2 020130 – Bovine Boneless Fr/C MT 24.3 6 125.8 1997
    11 Chile 3 020220 – Bovine Bone In Froz MT 15.6 13.5 52 284
    11 Chile 4 020120 – Bovine Bone In Fr/Ch MT 2.4 0 5.4 —
    12 Japan 1 020130 – Bovine Boneless Fr/C MT 140.8 112 41 -63
    13 Fiji(!) 1 020110 – Bovine Carcass Fr/Ch MT 0.9 0.9 0 —
    14 Other Pacific Islands, NEC(*) 1 020110 – Bovine Carcass Fr/Ch MT 0.9 0.9 0 —
    Grand Total MT 1229088.9 986454.6 883455.6 -10
    Notes:
    1. Data Source: Department of Commerce, U.S. Census Bureau, Foreign Trade Statistics
    2. All zeroes for a data item may show that statistics exist in the other import type. Consumption or General.
    3. (*) denotes a country that is a summarization of its component countries.
    4. Users should use cautious interpretation on QUANTITY reports using mixed units of measure. QUANTITY line items will only include statistics on the units of measure that are equal to, or are able to be converted to, the assigned unit of measure of the grouped commodities.
    5. (!) denotes a country which is summarized into its obsolete country.
    6. Product Group : Harmonized

  • Minkpuppy

    Thanks for the stats, Bill.
    Nicaragua, Honduras and Costa Rica are a huge source of beef trimmings for grinding and seem to have the most problems from my experience. It’s usually one or two establishments from each country that can’t seem to get their act together when it comes to E. coli. Just out of curiosity, I would like to know how much Central American beef is grass-fed vs. finished out on a feedlot. I don’t know much about the production methods used there. I’d also like to know how much of their beef trimmings end up in fast food and which restaraunts.
    It’s very seasonal–the positive rates are higher during the summer months in each respective country.
    Australia and New Zealand have excellent food safety programs, definitely better than the U. S. and send beef to Mickey D’s. They have the best track record but there has been some positives from down under as well. McD’s has very strict standards and will not accept any boxes that are even slightly damaged. A dented box is not wanted even if the product has not been exposed. The establishments providing the beef also have to pass Mc D’s audits and I understand they’re pretty tough. The restaraunts also have pretty strict food safety standards (of course, that depends on the individual franchise managers) so I’m pretty confident in the safety of their beef even if it’s not the best food choice for the old diet. :-)
    McD’s claims that they can’t get enough American beef that meets their fat to lean requirements as the reason for importing beef trimmings. Not sure if that’s really the case–seems like our cattlemen should be able to step up and provide what they want. Whataburger claims they use 100% American beef but not sure about that either. Their suppliers might slip imported beef into the mix…

  • I wonder if we added non-o157 testing into the mix?

  • Minkpuppy

    I’d expect the numbers to jump up even higher if we throw non-O157 results in there. *shudder*

  • Jess C. Rajan, Ph.D.

    The number of positives may be higher if all the collected samples are analyzed. The FSIS website Tables list only the information on the number of samples “analyzed” and do not include the information on the total number of samples “collected” and the number of samples “discarded” without analysis.
    http://www.fsis.usda.gov/Science/Ecoli_Raw_Beef_Testing_Data_YTD/index.asp
    Presently, the product samples are collected and shipped to one of three FSIS laboratories for testing. The FSIS laboratories discard a significant number of the collected samples without analyzing them for certain operational reasons.