Once again, FSIS and a retailer drag their feet in naming the names of the suppliers.
Although the numbers seem to shift a bit, according to the Michigan and Ohio Health Departments and media reports, it appears that at least 18 have been sickened with E. coli O157:H7 in Ohio and Michigan my have more than 17 ill. The last reported illness onset is June 20 (five days before the recall). The outbreak started earlier this month and yesterday prompted Kroger to recall an unspecified amount of meat sold at its stores between May 21 and June 8. Several have been hospitalized, one developed Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome.
Kroger finally announced Wednesday it was recalling all ground beef products with sell-by dates between May 21 and June 8. However, Kroger declined Thursday to release the number of meat suppliers it works with to supply its more than 2,470 supermarkets and stores in 31 states. FSIS too refused to name name – yet. FSIS also would not release information about the number or names of suppliers undergoing investigation, citing Kroger’s “proprietary business relations.”
As I said in a post in March of this year, “When is a Recall, not a Recall?”
So, here is the rub: Richard Raymond, the USDA undersecretary for food safety, said USDA regulations prevent the department from disclosing Hallmark/Westland’s customers because such information is considered proprietary. Food safety groups have argued for lifting that restriction, saying it would give consumers more information during recalls, while some food industry groups have opposed it.
So, it is really time to change the rule. Recalls should be real, they should be complete and they should be transparent. The goal should be to protect consumers not a company’s customer list.
Nothing changes. Kroger should know who supplied the meat to these Michigan and Ohio stores. It should have grinding records so any E. coli O157:H7 contamination can be linked – quickly – back to the slaughter plant. Its failure to do so to date may mean that its record keeping is not what it should be. If that is the case, Krogers (which, because it regrinds meat in store, is strictly liable under the law as a "manufacturer" of E. coli-tainted hamburger) may be left holding the bag instead of pointing fingers.