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

Hannaford’s “high-risk practices” Likely Lead to Salmonella Outbreak

hannaford-logo1.jpgHannaford’s was implicated in a 19-victim, 7-state outbreak of Salmonella Typhimurium outbreak that was likely the result of “high-risk practices;” so says the USDA’s FSIS.  Hannaford’s stores did not keep grinding records that showed the source of all the trimmings that they used when they ground their beef for resale, and the result is, will we never know the identity of the beef company that sold Hannaford’s the antibiotic-resistant Salmonella-contaminated beef. 

Leslie Bridgers at the Portland Press Herald wrote today:

Officials from the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service said Friday that they plan to close the investigation within a week.

The officials said Hannaford’s “high-risk practices” for grinding beef were the barrier in their investigation, although those practices did not break any regulatory requirements and are probably used by other meat retailers.

Daniel Engeljohn, assistant administrator of the Food Safety and Inspection Service, said it was not always clear from Hannaford’s records when the stores were grinding the trimmings. Investigators found that Hannaford would grind trimmings and tube meat without cleaning the equipment in between, he said, raising the possibility of cross-contamination.

Engeljohn noted that there is a lower sanitary standard for the cuts of meat that are used for trimmings than there is for the ground beef that comes in tubes.

There is no requirement that equipment be cleaned between grinds of meat from different companies, Engeljohn said, but the USDA has told retailers for several years that it recommends it, along with more complete information in grinding logs.

Hannaford’s “high-risk practices” aside, it is past time for FSIS to mandate better “regulator requirements” so the source of tainted beef can be found.  As importantly, FSIS consideration must be given to the use of trim (a beef product most likely to be contaminated) as a source of fill for ground beef production.

  • USDA’s admission that trimmings emanating from processing vacuum packed intact cuts of meat are “HIGH RISK” constitutes an agency admission that it is fully aware that the source slaughter plants are shipping intact cuts of meat into commerce which are surface-contaminated with E.coli O157:H7 and Salmonella, with full agency endorsement. But, how can FSIS ethically allow the fast chain speed slaughter plants to ship such contaminated meat into commerce in containers proudly displaying the official USDA Mark of Inspection which says “USDA Inspected and Passed”. Yes indeed, we now have USDA Inspected and PASSED pathogens, and USDA looks the other way. Huh?
    USDA itself has publicly acknowledged that it considers E.coli O157:H7 to be an adulterant, and cannot be shipped into commerce. Sounds good. But listen to other agency statements! USDA says that E.coli O157:H7 is an adulterant when found in ground beef, and in boneless trimmings which are destined for grinding. But get this: when E.coli O157:H7 bacteria are found on INTACT CUTS, well guess what, those pathogens are but feckless “Contaminants”, certainly not adulterants. USDA goes on to state that when downstream further processors, such as Hannafords process intact cuts of beef, and then grinds the trimmings emanating from the processing, that those heretofore feckless E.coli O157:H7 contaminants have supernaturally morphed into lethal Adulterants! Don’t believe me? Contact USDA officials in DC to validate what I just stated.
    This sleight of hand essentially provides a Pass Card to the large source slaughter plants, insulating them from accountability for their sloppy kill floor dressing procedures which inadvertantly deposits fecal bacteria onto carcasses on the kill floor. As such, all accountability for the presence of salmonella or E.coli in ground beef at Hannafords and all other retail meat markets is assessed against the further processing/grinding plant. It is imperative to realize that Hannaford did not INTRODUCE the pathogen into their ground beef! Rather, Hannaford processed meat which arrived at their stores previously contaminated with invisible bacteria. True to form, USDA places all blame on the downstream establishment, adroitly avoiding criticism of the source originating slaughter provider, claiming that Hannaford and other downstream plants are guilty of utilizing “High Risk” processing procedures.
    I agree that ALL boxed beef shipped into commerce is high risk! However, this risk originated at the source slaughter plant, NOT caused at the downstream further processing entity.
    Now, let’s assume that a grinding plant dutifully washes all their grinding equipment, saws, wrapping tables as well as changes gloves and aprons between every grind (an unrealizable task). Let’s assume they maintain copious grinding logs, which reveal the source(s) of contaminated meat. Well, they will still sell contaminated meat to their customers, because they can’t perform microbial analyses on every grinding batch. So, when an outbreak occurs, and USDA is called in to investigate, even if the grinding establishment provides irrefutable evidence of the source of the contaminated meat, USDA refuses to conduct a traceback to the well-documented source, and of course, refuses to require meaningful corrective actions at the source originating slaughter plant! Now think about that for a minute.
    Why do I claim this? For one thing, ten years ago yesterday, my grinding plant was involved in exactly this issue. Although the inspection force documented that the source of meat which provided 3 consecutive days of ugly lab reports for E.coli, USDA ignored the evidence (called it “Hearsay” and “Personal Opinion”), shut down my grinder for 4 months, and refused to take any action at the source slaughter plant. Over the years, I discovered that agency misbehavior was not unique at my plant, but has happened dozens of times across America. Here’s additional proof.
    USDA inspectors routinely collect ground beef samples at USDA-inspected plants, and send the samples into USDA labs to determine the presence of E.coli O157″H7. This is called “Verification Testing”. During the time frame January 1, 2009 – November 30, 2010, Verification sampling produced 64 positive samples. Of these 64, 29 were collected at plants which purchase 100% of their meat from but ONE slaughter provider. In all 29 cases, USDA refused to do the requisite traceback to the now well-defined one source slaughter provider, and of course, wouldn’t you know it, USDA was also spared the delicate duty of requiring the large source slaughter plant from implementing corrective action to prevent recurrences. Ever wonder why we continue to have these recurring recalls and ongoing outbreaks? Because USDA is paralyzed with fear of litigation from the large slaughter plants if the agency were ever audacious enough to attempt to force the source to clean up its act. It’s much easier to hang out the Hannafords of this world to dry.
    This scenario also displays the ongoing problems at the large source slaughter plants, which continue to deposit contaminants on beef carcasses, and their subsequent multiple hurdle pathogen intervention systems are failing to remove the pathogens, which of course USDA allows to be shipped into commerce on intact cuts. Frankly, we’ve got some insurmountable (so far) pathogen problems on the kill floor, for which the Hannafords of this world are being assigned the responsibility to alleviate.
    The source slaughter plants have implemented numerous interventions, such as steam pasteurization and lactic acid sprays, to counter the presence of pathogens. Most if not all of the Big 4 packers have also implemented antimicrobial treatments on their intact meat cuts just prior to vacuum packaging their cuts. In spite of this newest intervention, an inappropriately high % of the intact cuts still harbor lethal E.coli on their exterior. Fine with USDA, which allows the pathogen-laced intact cuts to be shipped into commerce.
    Americans, when will we wake up to realize this sleight-of-hand USDA is using? USDA is fully cognizant that its own policies allow the slaughter plants to ship pathogens into commerce, and when outbreaks occur, the venerable USDA piously proclaims that the grinding establishment is guilty of using “High Risk” protocol. Egads folks, wake up! The GIGO effect is here: Garbage In, Garbage Out. Since USDA allows slaughter plants to ship E.coli-laced meat downstream, where the USDA Inspected and Passed pathogenic meat is further processed and ground, what else can we expect but to have E.coli-laced steaks, roasts and ground beef to be sold to consumers?
    USDA needs to be spanked, not only for allowing this public health travesty to exist, but also for circumventing tracebacks to the source. USDA’s motto should be to Force the Source. Instead, the agency enjoys Destroying the Destination, such as Hannaford and countless other victimized downstream plants whose primary fault is that they assume that USDA-inspected and passed meat is safe.
    Wake up American consumers, you are being steam rolled by a corrupt government agency!
    John Munsell