Less than a month after Cargill recalled over 130,000 pounds of ground beef due to E. coli contamination, another major beef producer has recalled more than ten times that amount. Last week, Arizona-based meat producer JBS Tolleson recalled 6,500,966 pounds of various raw “non-intact” beef products due to a salmonella outbreak.
The recall decision was made by the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) after they identified JBS’s supply of beef products as the “probable source” of reported salmonella illnesses.
“In interviews, ill people answered questions about the foods they ate and other exposures in the week before they became ill. Thirty-six (92 percent) of 39 people interviewed reported eating ground beef at home. This percentage is significantly higher than results from a survey of healthy people in which 40 percent of respondents reported eating any ground beef at home in the week before they were interviewed. Also, several ill people ate ground beef at the same events or purchased ground beef at the same grocery store chains,” wrote the CDC in a public statement.
FSIS was first notified about this issue in September and they traced the outbreak back to JBS after reviewing receipts and shopper cards from eight different patients. A total of 14 patients were hospitalized due to this outbreak, however, no deaths have been reported. Nevertheless, about 57 cases of salmonella illnesses that were reported in 16 states have been linked to this recall.
The recalled products were packaged between July 26 and September 7 and were sold across the US under names such as Walmart, Cedar River Farms Natural Beef, Showcase, Showcase/Walmart and JBS Generic. All products have the establishment number “EST.267” on the USDA inspection mark on their packaging.
This recall comes just a little over two weeks after food giant Cargill recalled 132,606 pounds of ground beef on September 19 due to an E. coli risk. The company was also involved in another E. coli related recall in August when they had to remove 25,000 pounds of ground beef from the market.
However, meat companies have a loophole when it comes to selling beef products that are contaminated with Salmonella. FSIS prohibits the sale of ground beef that is contaminated with certain strains of E. coli but Salmonella is not in their list of prohibited adulterants. This means that meat companies are allowed to sell Salmonella contaminated beef as long as they are sure that people will cook it completely (to an internal temperature of 160⁰ F).
Nevertheless, considering the timelines of these recalls and how they were so closely connected, it is easy to see that there is a food safety issue in US beef manufacturing facilities. As more consumers start to turn towards plant-based alternatives the meat industry needs to ensure that their products are still up to consumer standards.
There are natural ingredients that food companies can use to sanitize their meat products as the typical sanitation process might not be enough. Although there is an initial kill step used in meat production facilities to remove pathogens, it is advised that meat producers should invest in incorporating kill steps in the beginning, middle and end of production lines.