April 23, 2007

"USDA has so far shown no desire whatsoever to trace back the contaminant to the source of the contamination."

And yet they somehow insist on persisting (definition: to go on resolutely or stubbornly in spite of opposition) with the phony idea of traceability in livestock.

(Hi there, BrandX. Who are you?)

Food Safety
Recalls come at critical time for FSIS

By John Gregerson on 4/23/2007 for Meatingplace.com

Timing, as the saying goes, is everything.

No sooner did members of USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service endure a scathing session with the House Agriculture Subcommittee on the issue of food-borne illness last week than they were confronted with a pair of major recalls on Friday, both involving outbreaks of E. coli O157:H7.

In Sonoma County, Calif., at least three children were sickened after consuming hamburgers from Calistoga Little League baseball snack shacks on April 3. On Friday, Merced, Calif.-based distributor Richwood Meat Co. voluntarily recalled more than 100,000 ponds of frozen ground beef patties associated with the outbreak. The frozen patties initially were distributed to discount grocers and institutional foodservice providers in California, Arizona, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

Across the country, South Claysburg, Pa.-based processor HFX Inc. voluntarily recalled 259,230 pounds of beef product after discovering a positive test for E. coli in Eastern Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Department of Health linked steaks manufactured by HFX to a late-March outbreak involving Hoss's Family Steak and Sea Restaurants, a Pennsylvania-based meat chain. Authorities speculate the illnesses resulted from undercooked steak product. Four of the five consumers who became ill required hospitalization.

Both recalls arrive on the heels of a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control indicating that instances of foodborne illness in the United States have either risen or remained the same over the past five years. Although FSIS data shows unchanging or decreasing figures among plant samples, the CDC figures and a report from the Government Accountability Office indicating that one-third of U.S. meat plants weren't inspected last year prompted Rep. Rosa DeLauro [D.-Conn.] to blast FSIS during the April 18 House Agriculture Subcommittee hearing.

After losing her temper, DeLauro said, "I am going to do everything I can to delay [FSIS's risk-based plant inspection initiative] until we're standing on solid facts." The initiative, which already has been delayed until summer, essentially seeks to deploy inspectors where they are needed most, meaning some plants would receive more visits than others.

Traceability troubles

Friday's recalls also prompted allegations that FSIS never attempted to identify the processor involved in an earlier recall involving Richwood Meat. On Feb. 24, 2004, the distributor recalled 90,000 pounds of ground beef for E. coli. John Munsell, president of Montana Quality Foods, told Meatingplace.com that when he contacted the company about the matter on Feb. 26, he was told that "USDA has so far shown no desire whatsoever to trace back the contaminant to the source of the contamination."

Richmond VP Steve Wood refused to discuss either Friday's recall or the 2004 incident with Meatingplace.com.

He did, however, take time to tell other members of the media that the blame for Friday's recall rests with his company's suppliers. "It's supposed to be clean, but they are picking out [only] little samples here and there," he said.

Wood indicated he didn't really know who "they" are. Munsell said he hoped FSIS puts forth the effort to find out.

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