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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Topps Recall fuels E. coli fears

UPI International has continued to follow the story of the second largest meat recall in U.S. history.

U.S. experts said the recall of frozen hamburger meat that may have been contaminated by E. coli is likely to create concerns of rising E. coli outbreaks. Last week’s recall of 21.7 million pounds of Topps Meat frozen hamburger, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture has linked to 27 reported and three confirmed illnesses, comes three months after 5.7 million pounds of ground beef were recalled for E. coli-related reasons, USA Today reported Tuesday.

The American Meat Institute said a slight rise has been recorded in positive E. coli tests by the U.S. government over the summer. It’s caused us to pause, Randy Huffman, vice president of the AMI Foundation, said to the newspaper. We’ve redoubled our efforts and focused on the things that work. The rate of positive E. coli tests has shrunk by 73 percent since 2000 but an increase was recorded in 2007 when compared with the preceding three years. Huffman said the rise could be the result of a random event.

As I said:

Something has changed and it has not changed for the better, Bill Marler, a prominent E. coli plaintiff’s attorney, told USA Today.

By the way, this is a random event:

This is not:

Yes, I forgot (no I really did not) that this is not Topps first experience with E. coli O157:H7.  So, for those at Topps reading this post (I know who you are), we have been contacted by over a dozen potential victims.

  • This is an Email I received today from John Munsell – an American Hero – He sent it to the National Meat Assocation:
    Hi Lauron:
    I enjoyed your “It’s not a perfect world” article about the untimely recall at Topps, and your related comments on E.coli. You are precisely correct that the industry has implemented a wide variety of intervention steps, at great cost, which have undoubtedly reduced the incidence of e.coli found in commerce. Up until this year’s multiple revelations, our industry has popped its chest with well-deserved pride.
    Elsa Murano was right on the money when she mentioned years ago that “There is no such thing as risk-free raw meat”. Never a truer word said. A close review of annual letters of certification provided by the large slaughter operations state the same fact when they make statements such as:
    “Cargill Meat Solutions Corporation believes our food safety program sets the standard for the industry, but at
    the same time, neither we, nor for that matter, anyone is able to guarantee pathogen free raw materials.
    Accordingly, we want to reiterate the importance of proper handling and cooking of all raw meat products by
    you and your customers”.
    Without delving through my historical records, I received other certifications back in 2002 – 2005 which stated things like “There are no silver bullets which can guarantee products to be free of pathogens”. These statements are valid, blunt but erudite, and don’t attempt to hide the truth about raw meat. No slaughter plant can provide blanket guarantees, because risk-free raw meat is an utter impossibility.
    So, what should FSIS do in those infrequent events when contaminated meat is detected, and/or outbreaks occur? Unfortunately for our industry, 2007 has been an ugly year for e.coli recalls. Why has this uptick occurred, realizing that in all past recalls FSIS aggressively required the grinding plant to implement corrective actions to prevent recurrences?
    First, we must acknowledge that E.coli is an “enteric” bacteria, which by definition means that it emanates from within animals’ intestines, and by extension, is found on manure-covered hides as your article today stated. Herein lies the problem. Topps Meat Co and Impero Foods & Meats, both of which experienced e.coli recalls this last week, DO NOT SLAUGHTER! Nevertheless, the OPEER branch of FSIS will allocate exclusive responsibility for these two recalls at the downline, further processing (non-slaughter) plants where even Scotland Yards could detect no intestines or manure-covered hides. Why do I make that bold accusation? Because of historical precedent! Please recall other sizeable recalls this year:
    Hoss’s Fresh Xpress
    Davis Creek Meat & Seafood
    Richwood Meat Co
    United Food Group
    Abbott’s Meat
    Lauron, one common thread weaves through the tapestry of the unfortunate recalls at all these plants, which is the fact that none of these plants slaughter. A close review of recalls this entire century quickly reveals that the majority of e.coli recalls have emanated at non-slaughter facilities. The conundrum is obvious: FSIS mandates that these downline, further processing non-slaughter plants implement corrective actions to prevent recurrences. Now how in the dickens can a further processing plant allegedly concoct corrective actions which will prevent future purchases of previously contaminated meat? Mission impossible. Notwithstanding this fact, FSIS is comfortable assessing all liability against these victimized downstream plants, while insulating the originating source slaughter plants from accountability. To my knowledge, the agency’s vaunted STEPS system has yet to force a recall at even one noncompliant source slaughter plant.
    It is no wonder that 2007 has experienced so many E.coli recalls, realizing that FSIS has effectively insulated the truly non-compliant source slaughter plants from implementing effective corrective actions. As long as this debacle continues, multiple sizeable recalls are virtually guaranteed. That’s a sure bet.
    A heads up for you: management at Impero Foods & Meats (Recall # 041-2007 for 65 lbs meat) state that their recall occurred by grinding single source material, and that evidence of such has been presented to FSIS. Will FSIS be willing to perform a traceback to the slaughterhouse origin of the hot meat? Don’t bet on it. The agency is much more comfortable bringing enforcement actions against hapless small plants such as Impero, rather than displaying the bold courage required to confront the multi-national behemoths which enjoy political connections and the economic largesse required to engage the agency in protracted litigation.
    The most imperfect portion of the imperfect world to which you refer is readily seen in FSIS unwillingness to require corrective action at the true origin of contamination. How many times do we have to reinvent this wheel?
    Common sense changes in agency and industry-conducted microbial sampling protocol would dramatically help in the expedited and scientific determination of the true source of e.coli contamination. However, it has been argued that such changes are “against the very heart of HACCP”. Absolutely true! HACCP has created artificial restrictions which prevent FSIS from participating in meaningful oversight of slaughter houses. The agency publicly stated in the mid-90’s that its role under HACCP would be “Hands Off”, and we beleagured plant owners swallowed this delectable morsel hook, line and sinker. None more than me. Why should we be surprised now that this deregulated style of meat non-inspection has produced an increased number and tonnage in recalls this year? Egads, in less than one century the spirit of the Federal Meat Inspection Act has been emasculated.
    John W. Munsell, Manager
    Foundation for Accountability in Regulatory Enforcement (FARE)
    Miles City, MT

  • The USDA thinks they have the answer to all these meat recall problems…called NAIS (national animal identification system) It will require all those who own even one chicken, or other livestock animal, to register their premises, microchip and file birth, death and movement reports so the govt know where those animals are at any moment. The silly reasons given for this program range from bird flu, mad cow, bioterrorist attack or any number of “you need our help” garbage but the real reason is to benefit multi billion dollar corporate agriculture so they can improve their marketability while sticking it to the small producer or pet pot belly pig owner. But NAIS tracibility ends at the moment the animal goes to slaughter.
    The best way to explain how NAIS will work is to say I have a sickness but I make YOU take the medicine to cure and YOU also pay for it but I go bragging to the world how healthy I am because you are taking the medicine….talk about sounding ridiculous but that is what the USDA wants us to swallow.