Whole Foods, paragon of the natural food marketplace, linked to an E. coli outbreak tied to Nebraska Beef Ltd.?  Goodness!  According to the Boston Globe this morning, Massachusetts health authorities are warning consumers not to eat ground beef bought from Whole Foods Markets over the last two months after seven E. coli O157:H7 infections have been linked to Nebraska Beef Ltd. Meat.

The people who fell ill — five of whom were hospitalized — had all eaten ground beef from Whole Foods last month.  Test results indicate that the ground beef products were part of a nationwide recall of meat produced by Nebraska Beef Ltd. because of E. coli contamination.

What I found most disturbing is this quote:

"A review of records from Whole Foods indicates that some of the stores received product from the recall list," the state said in a release. "At this time, it is not known why the food listed under the USDA recall was sold to the public after the recall date."

Well, I guess the good thing is that Whole Foods is now recalling fresh ground beef sold from June 2 through Aug. 6 at stores in the United States and Canada because the beef might be contaminated with E. coli bacteria.  The company has received reports seven people in Massachusetts and two in Pennsylvania who shopped at Whole Foods Market became ill.  Federal health authorities say there have been 49 confirmed illnesses tied to that outbreak.

So, it begs a couple of questions – 1) Why was Whole Foods selling meat that was supposed to be recalled? 2) Why was Whole Foods buying meat from Nebraska Beef Ltd., in the first place?  Whole Foods website is filled with all sorts of promises. Here is one that seemed to be a bit ignored:

Products – Our Quality Standards

We carry natural and organic products because we believe that food in its purest state — unadulterated by artificial additives, sweeteners, colorings, and preservatives — is the best tasting and most nutritious food available.

Our business is to sell the highest quality foods we can find at the most competitive prices possible. We evaluate quality in terms of nutrition, freshness, appearance, and taste. Our search for quality is a never-ending process involving the careful judgment of buyers throughout the company.

Here are some other questions for Whole Foods (after they answer the first two):

1)  Were you aware of Nebraska Beef’s litigation history against the USDA in 2003 and a church in upstate Minnesota in 2007?

2)  Had you ever reviewed Nebraska Beef’s Non-compliance Reports?

3)  Had you ever visited the Nebraska Beef plant?

4)  After being linked to an E. coli outbreak in California in 2006, what safety measures did Whole Foods employ?

Also, this is certainly not the first time Whole Foods has been linked to and E. coli problem.  We represent two children who became ill after eating E. coli-tainted hamburger purchased at a Palo Alto Whole Foods in 2006.  Perhaps that is why they got an "F."