Or, Why the Silence of the Steaks and Perjury of the Peppers?

Everyone (in my world) has been following the two latest government and business food mishaps that have poisoned many of our fellow citizens over the last several months.

The first mishap, linked (apparently, in part) to blade-tenderized steaks from National Steak and Poultry has sickened 21 people from 16 states. Most victims became ill between mid-October and late November 2009. They ranged in age from 14 to 87 years. There have been 9 reported hospitalizations and 1 case of hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).

On December 24, 2009, FSIS issued a notice about a recall of 248,000 pounds of beef products from National Steak and Poultry that “may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.” The recall was issued after FSIS determined there was an association between non-intact steaks (blade-tenderized prior to further processing) and illnesses in Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, South Dakota and Washington. The CDC has said that at least “some” of the illnesses appear to be associated with products subject to the FSIS recall. Rumor has it that a state (Minnesota, perhaps?) has ill people who ate hamburger, not blade-tenderized steaks.

That begs the question, why the silence of the steaks? Where did the National Steak and Poultry get the steaks? Where did the Minnesota hamburger (or trim) come from? Rumors are that it is from a Colorado facility (JBS Swift, perhaps?) that has seen its share of E. coli O157:H7 problems in the past. So, again why the silence of the steaks?

Mishap number two is linked to 189 people with a matching strain of Salmonella Montevideo being reported from 40 states since July 2009. According to the CDC, Illnesses began between July 2, 2009 and January 1, 2010 and infected individuals range in age from <1 year old to 88 years old and the median age is 37 years. 35 were hospitalized. The CDC also weighed in with this helpful bit of advice about the product poisoning us – it was a “widely distributed contaminated food product.”

Late at night on Friday, January 22, 2010, Daniele International Inc. recalled a sliced salami variety pack. On January 23, 2010, FSIS also issued a notice that Daniele International Inc. was recalling approximately 1,240,000 pounds of ready-to-eat varieties of Italian sausage products (including salame/salami). According to FSIS, this recall followed isolation of Salmonella in a private laboratory from a retail sample of a salami product produced by Daniele International. However, this Salmonella strain was different from the strains causing the outbreak. FSIS also added this helpful bit of advice: “It is possible that more than one food product may be causing illnesses.” In fact, FSIS also said that the company believes that black pepper “is the possible source of contamination.”

My friend over at efoodalert posted tonight that the Rhode Island Department of Health has confirmed that Salmonella has been found in samples of ground black pepper taken from an open container at Daniele International, Inc. The Salmonella recovered from Daniele’s black pepper matches the outbreak strain of Salmonella Montevideo that has sickened at least 189 individuals in 40 states. Interestingly, efoodalert posted days ago that the FDA had refused entry to 27 shipments of black pepper in the first six months of 2009 and that most of the consignments came from India. All of them were rejected because of Salmonella contamination.

So, we know that it is the pepper, but the company, FSIS and FDA remain silent? That too begs the question, why the perjury of the peppers?

Back to my main question, why do the US Government and US Business not believe in Capitalism? The one thing that makes capitalism – free markets – work is knowledge and transparency. If you know who poisoned you, you can stop buying food from them. However, here – especially here – the government and industry do everything they can to not tell us the facts. In both instances they put the information out on a holiday or a Friday night, so no one but a loser blogger would be paying attention. More importantly is the fact that they withhold information about the ultimate source of the contamination? Why not say whom the supplier of steaks and trim is? Why not let the public know who produced the peppers and where they are from?