Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Tracking Recalled Beef

June 30, 2009

In spite of the Obama Administration's promises of "transparency", consumers are still in the dark as to where JBS Swift Beef Company shipped its recalled beef products. JBS recalled more than 41,000 pounds of beef on June 24, 2009 and expanded that recall to a total of 380,000 pounds on June 28th.

The Company's initial recall notice stated that the beef was shipped to retailers and distributors in 13 states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah and Wisconsin. The expanded recall simply said that the beef was distributed nationally and internationally.

USDA promised consumers last year that the agency would release a list of retail consignees for all Class I (highest hazard level) recalls. We are still waiting to see the consignee list. Indeed, we don't even know what countries were on the receiving end of the beef shipments. All we have is a detailed list of recalled products that is 104 pages long, and is completely useless to consumers.

The recalled beef products have been linked to illnesses of E. coli O157:H7 in "multiple states". Which states? We don't know. How many states? We don't know. And when eFoodAlert asked the direct question, CDC's Press Officer, Lola Scott Russell, replied, "We do not have any additional information to release beyond the FSIS press release at this time."

Three children in London, Ontario also have been diagnosed with E. coli O157:H7 gastroenteritis. While the timing is coincidental and the illnesses have been linked to consumption of ground beef, there is no evidence as yet that these Canadian cases can be traced to meat from JBS Swift. We were informed by Bryna Warshawsky, Associate Medical Officer of Health of the Middlesex-London Health Unit, that molecular typing of the three London cases is in progress. Dr. Warshawsky did not know whether there was any plan to compare the genetic fingerprint with the E. coli O157:H7 strain from the US cases.

Instead of receiving prompt, practical information from USDA or from JBS Swift, US consumers are being forced to rely on the information released, in a haphazard fashion, by retailers. The following retailers have released a list of recalled beef sold in their stores:

This ad hoc approach to releasing retail-level distribution information is unacceptable. It's time for USDA to live up to its promise and provide consumers with prompt and practical recall details.

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