As I said to the Minneapolis Start Tribune:
“Bench trim has always been a bugaboo in E. coli outbreaks,” said Bill Marler, a Seattle attorney who specializes in food safety cases. “It’s a flaw in the hamburger making machinery, so to speak.”
Tonight I was rereading the FSIS Press Release that came out sometime after midnight today and I thought again about the source of the Costco E. coli O157:H7 outbreak and recall:
The product was prepared from bull meat and finely ground beef from the Costco Wholesale plant in Tracy, California, and bench trim prepared at the Costco Wholesale in Coon Rapids, Minn. The steaks or roasts that were the source of the bench trim may have originated from as many as 16 federally inspected establishments.
Although the “bull meat and finely ground beef” at Costco’s Tracy Plant was likely tested for E. coli O157:H7, it is also likely that “[t]he steaks or roasts that were the source of the bench trim may have originated from as many as 16 federally inspected establishments” were not.
Earlier this year the Office of Inspector General (OIG) reported that more components of ground beef needs to be tested for E. coli O157:H7
The OIG audited the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) to determine how effectively the agency was testing beef that downstream processors and retailers used for ground beef production.
Finding 1: FSIS Needs to Ensure that All Components of Ground Beef are Included in the Agency’s E. coli O157:H7 Testing Program
The OIG also found that FSIS needed to re-evaluate its E. coli O157:H7 testing methodology, as it relates to the downstream processing of boxed beef products. FSIS tests product designated as ground beef or likely to become ground beef, but they do not sample all boxed beef product. Some downstream processors grind such boxes of unsampled cuts of beef without sampling it for E. coli O157:H7 prior to grinding.
Finding 2: FSIS Needs to Improve How It Oversees the Grinding of Bench Trim at Retail Exempt Establishments
Similarly, “retail exempt establishments”—grocery stores, butcher shops, etc.— potentially grind their own ground beef; but unlike Federally inspected plants, FSIS does not sample and test bench trim at these establishments for E. coli O157:H7.