According to Food Safety News article this morning, the CDC says a Salmonella outbreak traced to ground beef from the world’s largest beef producer is technically over, but there is a continuing threat because unknowing consumers likely still have some of the implicated meat in their home freezers.
Epidemiologic, laboratory, and traceback evidence indicates that ground beef produced by JBS Tolleson Inc. is a likely source of this outbreak.
With 403 laboratory-confirmed patients across 30 states, the outbreak spanned at least five months, according to the final outbreak report posted March 22 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health officials did not confirm any deaths in relation to the outbreak, but a third of the outbreak victims had to be admitted to hospitals.
Investigators found the outbreak strain of Salmonella Newport in unopened packages of ground beef produced by JBS Tolleson Inc., part of the multi-national, megalithic JBS, which has its corporate headquarters in Brazil.
Public health labs reported to the CDC that the first patient confirmed in the outbreak became sick on Aug. 5, 2018, with the most recent having developed symptoms Feb. 8 this year. The patients ranged in age from less than 1 to 99 years old. Of 277 patients interviewed, 237 reported eating ground beef before becoming sick.
“Also, several unrelated ill people ate ground beef at the same events or purchased ground beef at the same grocery store chains, suggesting that the contaminated food item was served or sold at those locations,” according to the CDC report. “Officials in Arizona and Nevada collected opened and unopened packages of ground beef from ill people’s homes. Officials also collected unopened packages of ground beef from retail locations. The outbreak strain of Salmonella Newport was identified in the ground beef. . . . USDA-FSIS and state partners traced the source of the ground beef eaten by ill people in this outbreak to JBS Tolleson Inc.”
In relation to the outbreak, JBS officials recalled 6.9 million pounds of beef on Oct. 4, 2018, and then recalled an additional 5.2 million pounds on Dec. 4, 2018. The Recalled beef products were produced and packaged from July 26, 2018, through Sept. 7, 2018, and were shipped to retailers nationwide under many brand names.
On Oct. 4 this year, JBS Tolleson Inc. recalled approximately 6.9 million pounds of beef products that may be contaminated with Salmonella Newport. On Dec. 4 JBS Tolleson Inc. recalled an additional 5.2 million pounds of beef products.
So, I thought I would reuse a post from the beginning of this outbreak.
Personally, as I said to the Los Angeles Times some time ago, “I think that anything that can poison or kill a person should be listed as an adulterant [in food].”
Ignoring Salmonella in meat makes little, if any, sense. Even after the Court’s twisted opinion in Supreme Beef v. USDA, where it found Salmonella “not an adulterant per se, meaning its presence does not require the USDA to refuse to stamp such meat ‘inspected and passed’, ” our government’s failure to confront the reality of Salmonella, especially antibiotic-resistant Salmonella, is inexcusable.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court in Kriefall v Excel called it as it saw it:
The E. coli strain that killed Brianna and made the others sick is a “deleterious substance which may render [meat] injurious to health.” There is no dispute about this. Thus, under the first part of 21 U.S.C. § 601(m)(1), meat that either “bears or contains” E. coli O157:H7 (the “deleterious substance”) is “adulterated.” That E. coli O157:H7 contamination can be rendered non-“injurious to health” by cooking thoroughly, as discussed below, does not negate this; Congress used the phrase “may render,” not “in every circumstance renders.” Moreover, if the E. coli bacteria is not considered to be “an added substance,” because it comes from some of the animals themselves and is not either applied or supplied during the slaughtering process (although we do not decide this), it cannot be said that the E. coli strain “does not ordinarily render [the meat on or in which it appears] injurious to health.” Accordingly, meat contaminated by E. coli O157:H7 is also “adulterated” under the second part of § 601(m)(1).
Now, why would Salmonella be different? According to the CDC, it is estimated that 1.4 million cases of salmonellosis occur each year in the United States. Of those cases, 95 percent are related to foodborne causes. Approximately 220 of each 1,000 cases result in hospitalization, and 8 of every 1,000 cases result in death. About 500 to 1,000 deaths – 31 percent of all food-related deaths – are caused by Salmonella infections each year.
So, where do we stand with the existing USDA/FSIS law on adulteration? Here is the law:
(m) The term “adulterated” shall apply to any carcass, part thereof, meat or meat food product under one or more of the following circumstances:
(1) if it bears or contains any poisonous or deleterious substance which may render it injurious to health; but in case the substance is not an added substance, such article shall not be considered adulterated under this clause if the quantity of such substance in or on such article does not ordinarily render it injurious to health; …
(3) if it consists in whole or in part of any filthy, putrid, or decomposed substance or is for any other reason unsound, unhealthful, unwholesome, or otherwise unfit for human food;
(4) if it has been prepared, packed, or held under insanitary conditions whereby it may have become contaminated with filth, or whereby it may have been rendered injurious to health; …
Hmmm. It is hard to read the above and not think that the words in bold equate to all E. coli and Salmonella — frankly, all pathogens in food. I know, I am just a lawyer, but don’t ya think that when food with animal feces (and a dash of E. coli O157:H7) in it is considered an adulterant, that other animal feces (with dashes of other pathogens, like Salmonella) in them, should be considered adulterated too? But, hey, that is just me. Another odd governmental fact is that the FDA does not seem to make a distinction between pathogens it considers adulterants or not. FDA’s enabling legislation – Sec. 402. [21 USC §342] of the Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act also defines “Adulterated Food” as food that is:
(a) Poisonous, insanitary, or deleterious ingredients.
(1) If it bears or contains any poisonous or deleterious substance which may render it injurious to health; but in case the substance is not an added substance such food shall not be considered adulterated under this clause if the quantity of such substance in such food does not ordinarily render it injurious to health;
(2) If it bears or contains any added poisonous or added deleterious substance … that is unsafe within the meaning of section 406;
(3) if it consists in whole or in part of any filthy, putrid, or decomposed substance, or if it is otherwise unfit for food;
(4) if it has been prepared, packed, or held under insanitary conditions whereby it may have become contaminated with filth, or whereby it may have been rendered injurious to health …
It would be interesting, and perhaps entertaining, to have House and Senate hearings focusing on what should and should not be considered adulterants in our food. I can see panels of scientists from various fields, FDA, USDA and FSIS officials, beef and produce industry representatives, and consumers discussing this. I would pay to watch it.