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Topps Ground Beef Recall Means the End of 67-Year-Old Company

Oct 6, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP

The Topps ground beef recall has claimed even more victims – the employees of the 67-year- old company.   Management of the Topps Meat Company announced yesterday that it would be closing its doors for good, unable to withstand the impact of what has become the third largest meat recall in US history.   More than 21 million pounds of Topps frozen ground beef has been recalled since September 25, and the tainted meat is blamed for an E. coli outbreak that has sickened 30 people in 8 states.  It is a sad end for a company that was once one of the largest frozen meat processors in the US.

On September 25, Topps Meat Company recalled more than 300,000 pounds of frozen ground beef after it was tied to 6 cases of E. coli in New York State.   Dozens more cases of E. coli linked to tainted Topps ground beef were soon confirmed around the country, and by September 29, Topps had recalled another 21.7 million pounds of meat.   Topps, a privately-held company controlled  by Buffalo-based Strategic Investments & Holdings Inc., operated out of a plant in Elizabeth, New Jersey.   In a statement announcing the business’ closure, Topps CEO Anthony D’Uro said that the company “cannot overcome the reality of a recall this large.”   

According to the New York Times, about 87 people worked at the Topps plant in New Jersey.   They were only told about the closure yesterday, and reportedly ended their tenure at Topps with a barbecue that featured well-done Topps hamburgers.  According to Topps, a few employees will stay on to assist federal investigators with the E. coli investigation.

No one at the company would comment on the specific reasons for Topps’ stunning announcement, but the New York Times reported that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) had just taken severe measures against the company.  The USDA had already suspended Topps’ meat grinding operations on September 26 after the agency found safety problems in that area of the factory.   But the company had been allowed to continuing processing other products like steaks.   On Thursday, however, the USDA  served Topps with a “notice of intended enforcement,” a move just short of suspending the rest of the company’s meat production.  Apparently, inspectors had found even more problems in the rest of the plant.  

Topps Meat Company is not the only entity to be sullied by this E. coli debacle.   The USDA itself has come under fire for failing to recall tainted Topps ground beef in a timely manner.   The USDA had confirmation that a Florida girl suffering from E. coli had been sickened by a Topps frozen hamburger.   A sample of Topps meat taken from her parents’ freezer had tested positive for E. coli on September 7.   On September 14, the USDA received the results of more lab tests on September 14 that confirmed the earlier findings in the Florida case, yet the department did nothing until September 25.   The USDA has come under fire for this delay, and has promised to investigate the timing of the Topps ground beef recall.  Even the department concedes that its actions were lacking, and has set about reviewing its recall policy.

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