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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

The USDA is supposed to protect us?

Stephen J. Hedges of the Washington Bureau of the Chicago Tribune broke a very disturbing story this evening that is unfortunately far to common – the USDA and FSIS are more concerned about pleasing the Corporations they are supposed to inspect than in protecting the public from a known danger and deadly killer – E. coli O157:H7.   What is most disturbing in this case is that the  USDA and FSIS knew for 18 days that Topps product was out in stores and did nothing to alert the public.  Will anyone at the USDA or FSIS be fired?  Will Congress finally get off its hands and mandate recall authority to one food safety agency that is not beholden to Corporate America?

Excerpts of the story below as is the link.

USDA waits 18 days to request recall of tainted meat

The U.S. Department of Agriculture waited 18 days after learning that millions of pounds of ground beef made by Topps Meat Co. could be contaminated with E coli bacteria before it concluded that a recall was necessary, an e-mail from an agency inspection official shows. The Topps hamburger recall, which is now the third largest hamburger recall in USDA history, was first announced Sept. 25. The Elizabeth, N.J., company initially recalled 331,000 pounds of hamburger, but last Saturday expanded the recall to include 21.7 million pounds of frozen hamburger. The timing of the Topps recall, and its rapid expansion, are bound to raise more questions about the nation’s food safety system. So far, 28 people in eight states—most in the Northeast—have fallen ill from eating the hamburger, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.

Yet at the USDA, tests confirmed the presence of the E coli bacteria strain O157:H7 in the Topps hamburgers on Sept. 7, according to an e-mail from Kis Robertson, an employee of the USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS).

The USDA also announced its recall only as New York State published its own Sept. 25 consumer alert regarding possible E. coli contamination in Topps hamburger. Claudia Hutton, a spokeswoman for the New York Department of Health, said that state investigators confirmed the E. coli in Topps beef on Sept. 24 during tests in its Wadsworth Center Laboratories.

New York State actually issued its Sept. 25 consumer alert before the Topps recall was announced by the company and USDA, according to Jessica Chittenden, a New York Department of Agriculture and Markets spokeswoman. Chittenden said once state tests confirm a single case of food contamination, her department is required to immediately notify the public. It has now found eight instances of contamination in New York.

I know, I promised to not talk about my China trip anymore (It has received much play on Chinalawblog – mostly a bit negative),  but you have to wonder if the USDA and FSIS types faced death for being so damn stupid – recall a post I made a few months ago when China executed the head of its food safety agency.  I think the question that should be asked of the USDA/FSIS and Corporate America is: “How many lives do you ruin until you just can not get up in the morning?”

  • Walt Hill

    E. coli lawyer–
    You’re absolutely right; the USDA/FSIS should be doing a much better job policing the portion of the food supply under their jurisdiction. But they shouldn’t have to do it alone.
    *Congress needs to step up to give them more authority to put pressure on the meat and poultry industries.
    *Industry needs to step up to take responsibility for producing safe food products and not just commodities.
    *Consumers need to practice food safety and pay attention to recall announcements.
    I’m not sure that a mandatory recall authority for FSIS will have much effect as I think only around 20% of recalled products are actually recovered. The meat industry needs to stop fighting the dissemination of product information when there is a public health issue; this is one of the most blatant examples of profits before people.
    All concerned and affected parties need to step up to the plate (no pun intended) and take their responsibility their portion of food safety.

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