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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

USDA fails – Miserably – To protect public from E. coli (Part Two)

On August 26 I posted that USDA fails – Miserably – To protect public from E. coli. Well, I was wrong -sort of. It is clear that the USDA or the Nebraska plant (USDA has not named the plant and may take the position it does not have to) had a positive test for the deadly E. coli O157:H7 pathogen in "trim" (basically fat) and held that product in the plant. However, it let out the door the meat (that was bound to be turned into hamburger) that the trim was cut from. What is the USDA thinking? The USDA takes the position that hamburger and trim that contains E. coli O157:H7 is adulterated, and for good reason. But, when the meat is intact (not trim or hamburger) it is not adulterated, even if it is contaminated and may be used to make hamburger at a later stage, when it then would be adulterated. This makes my head hurt.

Marler Clark has seen an increase in business recently, and in light of the current E. coli outbreak in Minnesota, I think that increase might be courtesy of the United States Department of Agriculture. This is the agency that is responsible for, among other things, testing ground beef to ensure that the consuming public has a product free from E. coli O157:H7. What the agency has done, however, is slowly but surely erode the very testing mechanisms and requirements that are our protection against this lethal foodborne bacterium.

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDOH), which was instrumental in detecting last fall’s large-scale outbreak involving Dole lettuce, recently reported that at least seventeen Longville-area people have been confirmed to be suffering from E. coli infections in the last six weeks. The illnesses were caused by E. coli-contaminated ground beef. One woman died as a result, and the MDOH suspects that the number of victims is likely more than thirty.

Additionally, meat companies from Georgia, Maryland, Tennessee, and Virginia have all recalled E. coli-contaminated ground beef in the last month. To its credit, USDA testing was responsible for three of these recalls. But with a bug as dangerous as E. coli O157:H7, the USDA cannot be satisfied with the occasional recall. It has both the technology and capability to do much more to prevent E. coli from entering our meat supply. What may come as a shock to many readers is that the recent Minnesota outbreak could have been prevented. A Minnesota Department of Agriculture investigation has revealed that, prior to final grinding into ground beef, USDA testing proved that certain constituent parts of the meat in question was contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.

Nonetheless, the USDA may not have see fit to preclude that plant’s production from the human food supply. What we’re looking at here is USDA’s complete disregard for consumer well-being. I’m left thinking, how could the USDA allow meat that it may know is contaminated with a lethal bacterium reach consumers’ plates? I think I speak for the American public in saying that this is inexcusable. USDA has done a good job of wasting public resources by not stopping this outbreak before it started. We see again that USDA is basically an extension of the meat industry. Testing as performed and overseen by the USDA is a sham.

  • USDA/FSIS Timeline of Topps “Recall”:

    The below Timeline is directly from the transcript of the Press Conference held by the USDA/FSIS on October 4, 2007. Some questions that need to be answered: 1. When did Topps know that there was a possible E. coli…