USDA Issues Public Health Alert – What Took So Long?

USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has announced a Public Health Alert for raw boneless beef trim products imported from Canada that may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.

According to the FSIS News Release,

“FSIS testing of raw boneless beef trim product from Canadian Establishment 38, XL Foods, Inc., confirmed positive for E. coli O157:H7 on September 3, 2012. FSIS alerted the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) of the positive results. After follow-up testing by FSIS and CFIA, the CFIA announced a recall by XL Foods, Inc. of a variety of ground beef products on September 16, 2012. Subsequently, the CFIA has expanded the scope of the recall to include additional products.”

The products were distributed to US establishments in California, Michigan, Nebraska, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin. Some of the recalled beef trim may have been further processed into products such as ground beef, ground beef patties, beef jerky and pastrami. FSIS is working with US customers of XL Foods to determine the final destination of all the affected meat. The agency promises to issue a retail distribution list – but not a list of food service or institutional consignees – as soon as the information is available.

eFoodAlert first broke the news of the US connection on September 17th, after US Foods posted the first of two recall notices for the benefit of its food service customers. By then, the Kroger Company already had notified its customers of a recall of KRO Ground Beef 73% (3-lb pkgs), due to contamination with E. coli O157:H7. The recalled meat was sold in Kroger stores in Greater Cincinnati, Dayton, OH, parts of Indiana, Illinois and eastern Missouri. Jay C, Food4Less and FoodsCo stores also were named in the Kroger recall.

I have to ask – Why did FSIS take so long to issue this Public Health Alert? The information contained in today’s News Release was already known to the US industry as early as September 16th. What purpose did it serve to hold off alerting the general public to this problem?

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has been unusually forthcoming with information on retail distribution of the recalled beef in Canada. A current consolidated list can be found at the Canada/USA Ground Beef Recall tab. I’ll be updating the recall information at that location to include both Canadian and US recall announcements as these are issued.

While no illnesses have apparently been reported either in Canada or the USA in association with this recall, FSIS offers the following information for consumers:

E. coli O157:H7 is a potentially deadly bacterium that can cause bloody diarrhea, dehydration, and in the most severe cases, kidney failure. The very young, seniors and persons with weak immune systems are the most susceptible to foodborne illness.

FSIS advises all consumers to safely prepare their raw meat products, including fresh and frozen, and only consume ground beef that has been cooked to a temperature of 160° F. The only way to confirm that ground beef is cooked to a temperature high enough to kill harmful bacteria is to use a food thermometer that measures internal temperature.

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