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Whole Foods Beef Recall

Aug 11, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

The recent Whole Foods Market ground beef recall, of beef sold between June 2 and August 6, has been linked to Nebraska Beef of Omaha, one of the nation;s largest meatpackers.  Whole Foods has said it did not know that its vendor, Coleman Natural Foods, used Nebraska Beef to process is meat.  The recall involves over one million pounds of fresh ground beef from stores in 24 states.  Nebraska Beef also recalled a total of five million pounds in May and June following a different E. coli outbreak in seven states.

A Whole Foods spokesperson reported that consumers who shopped at its stores in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania have reported illnesses and are asking its customers to dispose of the ground beef.  Customers can receive a refund if they bring their receipt or packaging back to the store.  According to the Boston Globe, In Massachusetts, seven people—aged three to 60 have reportedly fallen ill due to E. coli-tainted beef purchased from Whole Foods stores there.  And The Washington Post reports that this strain is the same as the strain that sickened 31 people in 12 states, the District of Columbia, and Canada.

This is not the first time Nebraska Beef has been in the epicenter of questionable practices and food contamination.  According to a Washington Post report, Nebraska Beef has received a number of sanitation violations over the past six years.  The Post highlighted four items of particular interest:

  • The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) shut down Nebraska Beef three times in 2002 and 2003 after it discovered “feces on carcasses, water dripping off pipes onto meat, paint peeling onto equipment, and plugged-up meat wash sinks.”
  • Nebraska Beef was written up no less than five times in 2004 and early 2005 for not removing brains or spinal cords from the food supply, as required.  These parts are of particular concern because it is there that bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease, can originate.
  • In August 2006, US inspectors “threatened to suspend Nebraska Beef operations for not following requirements for controlling E. coli.”
  • In 2006, “Minnesota health officials blamed Nebraska Beef for sickening 17 people who ate meatballs at a church potluck in rural Minnesota. Several victims filed lawsuits against Nebraska Beef, including the family of a woman who died.”


Also, in 2003, the USDA went to court to try to shut down Nebraska Beef’s Omaha packing plant after citing it for numerous violations.  In 2007, Nebraska Beef sued the USDA saying its inspectors had unfairly targeted it.

Last month, 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.  At that time, the tainted meat was responsible for at least dozens of illnesses and dozens of hospitalizations to consumers in a variety of states.


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