Beef Products Inc. Faces Safety QuestionsJan 4, 2010 | Parker Waichman LLP
A meat processor that says its method of treating beef trim with ammonia reduces E. coli and Salmonella to "undetectable" levels has come under fire following a New York Times report that questioned its safety methods.
Beef Products Inc. of South Dakota exposes its meat to ammonia gas, which raises its alkalinity, making it less hospitable to E. coli and Salmonella. Based on the company's own research that purported to show this method eliminated E. coli and Salmonella, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) exempted Beef Products from routine testing of ground beef in 2007. What’s more, Beef Products’ ground beef was also excluded from recalls, even when it was an ingredient in hamburgers found to be contaminated, because the USDA assumed it to be pathogen free.
But according to the New York Times report, meat sold by Beef Products to the National School Lunch Program, has tested positive three times for E. coli and 48 times for Salmonella since 2005. In fact, the firm was temporarily banned from selling meat to the program in July – the third time in three years. However, it is still being sold to other customers.
Research by the Times showed that the alkalinity levels of the Beef Products’ beef has gone down, indicating less ammonia is being used in the treatment process. Beef Products admitted using less ammonia, but insists that the treatment is still effective.
The New York Times has shared the results of its Beef Products’ investigation with the USDA. In response, the agency said it was revoking Beef Products’ exemption from routine testing, and reviewing its operations.