All beef products sold or transported in the United States must be federally inspected. The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) ensures that meat products are correctly labeled, packaged, and prepared according to safety guidelines in the Federal Meat Inspection Act. However, instances of beef contamination by bacteria frequently occur when safety guidelines are not followed by meat manufacturers or suppliers.
In the past five years, the FSIS estimates that there have been approximately 61.8 million pounds of beef subject to E. coli-related recalls.
Often government inspection procedures or slaughterhouse inspection procedures are inadequate to identify potential contamination. According to the FSIS, most beef recalls are triggered by reports of consumer illnesses, and not by government or industry testing.
Beef is most often found to be contaminated with E. coli, a common bacteria that is found in the intestines of humans and animals. While most strains of E. coli are harmless, one dangerous strain called E. coli O157:H7 produces a powerful poison that causes severe sickness. Foods that are contaminated with E. coli cause an estimated 73,000 sicknesses per year and about 60 deaths.
While most healthy adults can recover within a week from E. coli poisoning, young children, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems can experience severe complications. Approximately 2-7 percent of all E. coli illnesses result in hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a complication that can lead to organ failure, serious kidney damage, paralysis, blindness, high blood pressure, or even death.
Beef and E. coli Outbreaks
In January 2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced an ongoing investigation into an outbreak of E. coli affecting 21 people from 16 states. The illnesses were reported from October 2009 to December 2009, and there have been nine reported hospitalizations and one case of a type of kidney failure known as hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). It is suspected that the outbreak is associated with recall beef from the National Steak and Poultry company.
In October 2009, an outbreak of E. coli was reported in at least 8 states, with 26 people infected with the dangerous E. coli O157:H7 strain. There have been 19 reports of hospitalization, with five cases of a HUS. Two deaths have been reported. It is suspected that the outbreak is associated with ground beef from the Fairbank Farms company.
Huntington Meat Packing Recall
In February 2010, Huntington Meat Packing, Inc. expanded its January 2010 recall to include approximately 4.9 million additional pounds of beef and veal products that were produced in unsanitary conditions. The recall affects ground beef patties, beef patties, ground beef, beef burrito filling mix, diced beef, sliced beef, and various veal patties. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General is conducting an investigation to determine if the company knowingly produced meat in unsanitary conditions and continued selling the products for 347 days.
In January 2010, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced that Huntington Meat Packing Inc. recalled approximately 864,000 pounds of beef products that may have been contaminated with E. coli O157:H7. The recall affects ground beef, beef burrito filling mix, beef patties, and other products.
National Steak and Poultry Recall
In December 2009, the FSIS issued a notice of a recall of 248,000 pounds of beef from National Steak and Poultry with a possible E. coli O157:H7 contamination.
Fairbank Farms Recall
In October 2009, the FSIS issued a notice of a recall of approximately 545,699 pounds of ground beef from Fairbank Farms.