Chi Tribune Article on E. coli in Beef

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By Consumers Union on Tuesday, March 16th, 2010


The Chicago Tribune wrote a fantastic article on an issue we are working with groups in Washington D.C. on: USDA’s policy not to try to trace back to the supplier a contaminated shipment of beef that is discovered through routine testing at a grinder.

This article focuses on the negative impact on grinders. However the policy (which benefits the large slaughterhouses run by Big Beef) also endangers public health—if this grinder got a contaminated shipment, it is likely that other grinders did as well.

Here are some highlights. Here’s the entire article.

Kotara said his plant typically was tested by federal inspectors about once a month, though sometimes more frequently during warmer months. Because inspectors take for testing only a small portion from what often is a huge amount of meat, contaminated products can pass through a distribution chain yet still test negative for the presence of E. coli, according to food safety experts.

The meat also had been subject to at least one intervention step, a measure aimed at eliminating or controlling E. coli., such as treating meat with steam sprays and anti-microbial washes.

Still, somehow, the sample was tainted. Kotara never learned how or where it was contaminated but insists it was not at his plant. He said the USDA reviewed documents that detailed production and safety plans and concluded he was in compliance with its rules. Inspectors never identified any flaws at his plant that turned out to be a source of the E. coli. Several follow-up tests for E. coli, according to Kotara, all were negative….

Felicia Nestor, a senior policy analyst at the consumer group Food & Water Watch, said part of the USDA’s food-safety strategy has been to encourage grinders to pressure their suppliers, but small grinders like Prange do not have enough market clout.

“It doesn’t work,” she said. “They’re too small.”

Nestor and other experts agreed it is unlikely, though not impossible, that a grinder would be the source of contamination from E. coli. The more likely culprit, she said, is the slaughterhouse.

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