In a press release issued today, Nebraska Beef tries to downplay the seriousness of its recall of over 265 tons of ground beef, beef chuck, other beef products because of possible contamination with E. coli O157:H7. It self-servingly claims, "The Company has processed over 10 billion pounds of product without a confirmed customer illness." Of course, Nebraska Beef does not bother to define what it would consider a "confirmed customer illness." But apparently the amount of evidence that Nebraska Beef would require is a lot higher than the USDA and the CDC required in deciding to press for the Class I Recall, based on "a health hazard situation where there is a reasonable probability that the use of the product will cause serious, adverse health consequences or death. See USDA Recall Release, 022-2008, June 30, 2008.
Furthermore, Nebraska Beef’s track record is hardly as problem-free as it appears to suggest. In a New York Times article, published on January 23, 2003, it was reported that:
The Agriculture Department will argue in Federal District Court on Thursday that the plant, Nebraska Beef Ltd., should be effectively shut down after numerous citations for unsanitary conditions. The investigation last August of the Omaha slaughterhouse was sparked by the discovery of hamburger contaminated with E. coli O157:H7, some of which was supplied by Nebraska Beef.
After reaching a consent decree with the USDA, months later Nebraska Beef sued both the Agency and USDA inspectors after it received 58 noncompliance records (NR’s) for unsafe or unsanitary practices. See Nebraska Beef v. USDA, 2004 USDA Dist. LEXIS 4993 (Mar. 18, 2004). Among other things, Nebraska Beef challenged the legality of the HACCP and sanitation regulations that the USDA had enacted to protect the public. Nebraska Beef’s legal claims against the USDA inspectors were later dismissed by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals as being legally and factually baseless. See Nebraska Beef v. Greening, et al., 398 F.3d 1080 (2005). As of an August 15, 2007 decision in which the court noted that the "case, in one form or another, has languished in this court since 2003," Nebraska Beef was still pressing on in its attempts to have a court declare that it does not have to follow USDA regulations intended to protect the public.
In yet another New York Times article on Nebraska Beef published June 8, 2008, "Out of a Church Kitchen and Into the Courts," Nebraska Beef again became famous; this time for suing a church in upstate Minnesota that, along with other area restaurants used Nebraska Beef E. coli-tainted hamburger in a church potluck.
Some News coverage:
E. coli-infected resident to sue Nebraska beef supplier