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A Summer with Less E. coli?

At the risk of jinxing the apparent success, it is worthy of note that, excluding the recent problem with bison meat, ground beef and other beef products have been conspicuously absent from the news this summer.  This is a significant step for an industry that collectively recalled millions of pounds of meat products in 2007, 2008, and 2009 due to E. coli O157:H7 contamination.  Hopefully the success is not pure luck or chance, but is instead attributable to meaningful manufacturing advances that have truly helped to reduce the bacterial load on retail meat products.

To be more specific, the FSIS-USDA website contains reference to only two summer beef product recalls.  The first was a June 22 recall by Crown I Enterprises from NY of about 3,700 pounds of ground beef.  The second was a June 23 recall by South Gate Meat Co from CA of 35,000 pounds of ground beef.

Compared to recent years, only two summer recalls totalling just under 40,000 pounds of product–particularly when the recalls were not known to be associated with any illnesses–is progress indeed.  In 2007, beef companies recalled over twenty-nine million pounds of meat, including Cargill’s recall of nearly one million pounds of hamburger patties, one of which sickened Stephanie Smith. 2008 saw at least sixteen recalls of beef products, totaling at least 2,361,295 pounds of meat. And in 2009, beef companies recalled almost 2 million pounds of meat due to various contamination and processing problems.

(Notably, the year began very poorly for meat.  Winco, Beltex Meat Co, Montclair Meat Co., Huntington Meat Co, and several other businesses recalled over 5,000,000 pounds of meat products between January and May.)

Is the apparent success really progress?  Or is it simply too good to be true?  We’ve got another month and a half of summer left in Seattle; a little longer most other places.  If the apparent success really is success, maybe Marler Clark will represent no HUS victims sickened in the summer by ground beef products for the first time in a long time.

Editor’s Note:  “Ground beef and E. coli this summer” by Drew Falkenstein originally appeared at Food Poison Journal on July 22, 2010. 

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