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Nebraska Beef Recall Blamed on Unsanitary Conditions; Not the First Problem with Nebraska Beef

Jan 1, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
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A USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) investigation at two processing plants that collaborated with Nebraska Beef revealed E. coli contamination occurred because some production practices took place under “insanitary” conditions insufficient to prevent E. coli bacteria.  The tainted meat is responsible for at least 41 illnesses and dozens of hospitalizations to consumers in Michigan and Ohio.  And, now, there is another outbreak emerging in Georgia; its origin is under investigation by Georgia health officials who are trying to determine if dozens of cases there are linked to Michigan and Ohio.

Nebraska Beef expanded its voluntary recall include all 5.3 million pounds of meat produced for ground beef between May 16 and June 26, ten times the amount in the original recall which involved beef sent to Nebraska, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, and Texas.  It is not clear if any contaminated or recalled beef was sent to additional states, but contaminated beef was distributed in Illinois, New York, and Pennsylvania; beef products were sent to Colorado and Texas for further processing.  Because the products in the expanded recall were processed by other companies, there will likely not be the establishment number "EST 19336" on products available to consumers.

This is not the first time Nebraska Beef has been in the epicenter of questionable practices and food contamination.  In 2003, the USDA went to court to try to shut down Nebraska Beef’s Omaha packing plant after citing it for numerous violations.  Three years later, Minnesota public health and USDA officials linked an E. coli 0157:H7 outbreak in ground beef that killed a Minnesota woman to Nebraska Beef.  In 2007, Nebraska Beef sued the USDA saying its inspectors had unfairly targeted it.

The Nebraska Beef recall follows the June 25 recall by Kroger Company of ground beef sold in Michigan and central and northwestern Ohio.  Nebraska Beef is the supplier involved in the original recall.  Kroger listed May 21-July 5 for most ground beef products and July 11-21 for Private Selection Natural ground beef sold in 16 ounce packages in the self-service meat case at Kroger, Dillons, Fred Meyer, Baker's, Smith's, and Fry's stores.  Kroger stores include these and QFC, Ralphs, King Soopers, City Markets, Hilander, Owen's, Pay Less, and Scott's stores.  The Agriculture Department has labeled the recall a Class I, which carries a high health risk.  More cases are likely because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that for every incident of E. coli reported, 20 go unreported.  E. coli 0157:H7 symptoms can include stomach cramps, vomiting, bloody diarrhea, dehydration, and fever.

Food borne illnesses are on the rise, in part, due to the challenges in policing an outdated and under-funded food-surveillance system overwhelmed by the emergence of mega-farms, -distribution centers, and -transporters.  Worse, scientists have expressed concern that infections from antibiotic resistant E. coli are spreading; several countries now report such cases.  Worse, emerging data confirms the negative health effects of E. coli can remain for months and years; can have long-term, lasting effects; and can appear months or years after the original illness.

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