Yesterday morning I had the opportunity to speak at the National Meat Association annual “meating.”  For the most part my speech was positive.  From a spike in outbreaks, illnesses and recalls in 2007, the numbers have dropped – well, until this morning when 1,000,000 pounds of meat were recalled due to illnesses in California.  Before this mornings recalls, here were the numbers:

I now need to update those slides to 12 recalls of 1,786,859 pounds. Although I praised the meat industry for a positive downward trend (especially in total illnesses), I also pointed to the tragic reality of E. coli O157:H7 (and other E. coli) infections. I did show the video below (some were not too happy I did):

As USDA Secretary Vilsack said a year ago:

“Until we get the number of food-borne illnesses down to zero, and the number of hospitalizations down to zero, and the number of deaths down to zero, we still have work to do.”

I wonder if the Secretary has ever taken the time to watch the above video.  I would be happy to send him the longer version too.  The reality is that zero may not be possible – but it should be a goal.  Until we do better (industry, retail, government and consumers).  We will have more Abby’s and the industry will not reach this goal either:

  • John Munsell

    At the risk of being redundant here, we will continue to experience ongoing outbreaks and recurring recalls (complete with sicknesses, hospitalizations and deaths) until USDA and the industry proactively pursue tracebacks to the SOURCE. Historically, when outbreaks occur, everyone’s focus has been to hang out to dry the entity which provided the food to the sickened consumer. Such entities include retail meat markets and restaurants which purchase all their meat from suppliers, who originally purchased the meat from source slaughter providers, which is where meat is originally contaminated. Blaming the DESTINATION of bad meat (retail meat markets and restaurants) is convenient for both USDA and the big packers. USDA’s job is simplified because their investigation starts and abruptly stops at the meat market or restaurant, because after all, sicknesses were caused by meat sold at that downstream entity. Since the agency terminates the investigation at the DESTINATION, the agency is spared the discomfort of challenging the true SOURCE (the big packers) with meaningful enforcement actions. This circumvention of justice and abdication of the agency’s responsibility to protect consumers from unsanitary meat also directly benefits the big packers. The four biggest packers slaughter 88% of our feedlot cattle, at high-speed plants. As long as this nation continues to paint a bulls eye on the downstream DESTINATION facilities, the SOURCE plants continue to operate as is, assuring Bill Marler that neither the industry nor the agency has any intention to put Mr. Marler out of business. Could hurt industry profits, and force the agency out of their recumbent complacency. Don’t rock the boat! John Munsell

  • Thanks Bill for the statistics that are for the most part very encouraging. It shows that interventions such as HACCP are working and it also shows the positive influence that regulators and industry can have when they work together. The success in the meat industry is also being seen in produce, where although I dont have hard numbers, it appears outbreaks and cases have shown improvements.
    With that said the STEC cases are still high and we still have a lot of work to do.
    To echo what John Munsell says, we do need to go the source, in produce its the field, in meat, I believe we need to go back before the packer actually to the feed lot. The sanitary condition in feed lots is out of control and we could be preventing a lot of transmission if we can find a way to do this better. In produce we are getting very strict about water, soil, harvesting etc, before the product even gets to the packer. I know its a different story with animal husbandry, but we need to go there eventually, And what about the E coli vaccine approved for use, where is the pressure to get the cattle industry to use it, what is the hold up? This is yet another intervention, way before where meat is salughtered. I believe the source of E coli must be controlled as far up stream as possible, and downstream too.
    Restaurants and retailers have a lot more they could do, and far too many cooks both at home and in facilities simply do not know anything about proper cooking temperatures and using a thermometer very simple things that would also help