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Adulteration – In the Eyes of the Beholden?

Opinion

Salmonella on a raw uncooked product is not, in and of itself, a public health risk … Salmonella on a raw uncooked hamburger does not make it adulterated. It does not mean that the plant is not operating in an unsanitary way.”

- Patrick Boyle, CEO of the American Meat Institute, in a 2002 Frontline interview

E. coli O157:H7 is a human pathogen that can be found in the intestines of cattle and other ruminants. In 2009-2010, this single serotype of shigatoxin-producing E. coli(STEC) was responsible for thirteen multistate disease outbreaks. USDA recognizes E. coli O157:H7 and six other STEC serotypes as adulterants in raw beef.

Salmonella is a human pathogen that can be found in the intestines of cattle and many other animals. In 2009-2010, Salmonella was behind twenty-one multistate disease outbreaks. Yet, as far as USDA is concerned, Salmonella is NOT an adulterant in raw beef.

According to the Federal Meat Inspection Act, meat is considered “adulterated” if  “…it bears or contains any poisonous or deleterious substance which may render it injurious to health…“ A USDA training program explains that, “… E. coli O157:H7 is considered to be an added substance because it is introduced to the product during processing. For example, it is spread from the hide or digestive tract of the animals during slaughter or processing. It is injurious to health because one of the normal ways of cooking this product includes “rare” which is not sufficient to destroy the pathogen.”

In case anyone at USDA hasn’t noticed, Salmonella also is ” … spread from the hide or digestive tract of the animals during slaughter or processing.“ And Salmonella, likewise, is not destroyed by “rare” cooking of meat.

Since October 2011, the CDC has reported three multistate outbreaks of Salmonellainfections that were linked to consumption of contaminated ground beef.

  • Between October 8th and December 17th, 2011, twenty persons in seven states were infected with Salmonella Typhimurium. Victims included a child less than one year of age, and a 79-year-old individual. Eight people were hospitalized. The illnesses were traced to ground beef purchased from Hannaford supermarkets.
  • Between June 6th and July 27th, 2012, forty-six persons in nine states were infected with Salmonella Enteritidis. The youngest outbreak victim was three years old; the eldest was 101. Twelve people were hospitalized. The outbreak was traced to ground beef produced on a single date at a Cargill Meat Solutions production facility.
  • On January 25, 2013, CDC announced a new outbreak. Sixteen people in five states have been infected with the Salmonella Typhimurium outbreak strain so far. Seven of the outbreak victims reported eating raw ground beef kibbeh at a restaurant in Michigan. Seven of the 16 outbreak victims were hospitalized. CDC considers that ground beef produced by two companies – Jouni Meats, Inc., and Gab Halal Foods – is the likely source of the outbreak.

In 2001, a Texas-based meat processor (Supreme Beef) successfully fought USDA’s efforts to set limits on Salmonella in raw meat, after the Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling in the company’s favor. USDA chose NOT to take the battle to the US Supreme Court. The following year, an effort by the Senator Tom Harkin, the Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, to introduce legislation to clarify USDA’s authority was opposed – successfully – by the American Meat Institute.

In short, more than ten years ago, USDA tucked its collective head back into its tortoise shell, even though Salmonella is, by definition of the Federal Meat Inspection Act, an adulterant.

Are USDA and Congress waiting for raw beef to be the source of a fatal Salmonella outbreak before scraping together the courage to oppose the American Meat Institute lobby? Are those responsible for food safety so beholden to – or frightened of – the meat lobby that nothing else will embolden them to take action?

Someone explain this to me. Please!

This article originally appeared on eFoodAlert January 27, 2013. 

© Food Safety News
  • johnmunsell

    FSIS has been controlled not by courageous defenders of public health, but by lifer bureaucrats who have been paralyzed with fear of potential litigation from the large packers and their associations if the agency were ever audacious (or stupid) enough to challenge the biggest packers when confronted with evidence of salmonella-laden meat.

    The agency has also been disengenuous, speaking with a forked tongue.

    Example:  An agency-sponsored conference at the Loudermilk Center in Atlanta, Georgia on February 24, 2006 included startling and refreshing remarks by two agency speakers:  Dr. Patricia Bennett and Dr. Daniel Engeljohn, who served as Facilitator.

    On page 109 of the transcript, Dr. Bennett stated:

    “Now, the first focus of the Agency will be on the control of Salmonella in slaughter establishments.  But that doesn’t mean that the Agency is disinterested in the ground-product classes.  But, we do realize that you first need to control what’s going on with the source materials before you’re going to control what’s going on with the ground-product classes”. 

    Kudos to the agency for finally admitting that we must FIRST control pathogens at the source.  This constituted a watershed change in agency thinking.

    On page 141 of the transcript, Dr. Engeljohn stated:

    “And then more importantly with the ground products — because the highest prevalence or at least the percent positives that we’re finding is in the ground products.  And it’s the source materials that we want to focus on first, and then we’ll focus on those ground products”.

    Remarkably, the agency authorized two officials to admit the obvious during this meeting:  i.e., that FSIS must focus on the SOURCE of Salmonella-laced meat.

    (Note:  I’ve not yet seen statements by FSIS similarly challenging the source of E.coli).

    I submit to you that FSIS and the large packer associations are intentionally using the bureaucratic distinctions between “Adulterants” versus “Contaminants” as a ploy to justify widespread existence of Salmonella in meat.  As if Salmonella are a feckless bacteria with no threat to public health.  Huh?  CDC statistics show that ten times as many Americans die every year from Salmonella than from E.coli.

    Perhaps if Patrick Boyle or Michelle Obama spent a week in the hospital fighting Salmonellosis, only then would AMI, the Oval Office, FSIS and the industry admit that Salmonella “is a deleterious substance which may make it injurious to health”.  Egads folks, does FSIS & AMI think we are stupid?  Well, um……..yes.

    And contrary to arguments that Salmonella is “found naturally in meat”, Salmonella and E.coli are enteric bacteria, naturally found  in intestinal tracts and in manure-covered hides.  Salmonella is NOT naturally found in meat!  Typically, Salmonella is transferred from intestinal injesta or manure-covered hides onto exposed beef carcasses via sloppy kill floor dressing procedures. 

    Neither FSIS nor the large meat packer associations have any shame.

    John Munsell

  • Richard Raymond

    Phyllis, you explained it yourself. Supreme Beef and a District Court judge. Go back to your Junior year in High School when you learned that Congress writes the laws, and then the courts interpret them. FSIS cannot go back against a judge’s ruling without a higher appeal. Do not blame FSIS for this situation. I do not agree with Boyle’s quote at all, but I also do not believe FSIS should be the scape goat for the way our laws are interpreted.  

    • johnmunsell

      The 3 circuit judges in the Supreme Beef (SB) case concluded:

      From paragraph 45:  “The district court agreed with Supreme and reasoned that because the USDA’s performance standards and Salmonella tests do not necessarily evaluate the conditions of a meat processor’s establishment, they cannot serve as the basis for finding a plant’s meat adulterated under Section 601 (m) (4).  The district court therefore held that the examination of a plant’s end product is distinct from “conditions” within the plant for purposes of Section 601 (m) (4) because Salmonella may have come in with the raw material”.

      From paragraph 49:  “The use of the word “rendered” in the statute indicates that a deleterious change in the product must occur while it is being “prepared, packed or held” owing to insanitary conditions”. 

      SB did not slaughter, but merely ground trimmings purchased from outside source slaughter providers.  FSIS testing of SB’s ground beef revealed too high an incidence of Salmonella.  If Supreme Beef unwittingly purchased previously-contaminated meat from outside source slaughter providers, it is guaranteed that SB’s ground beef would also contain Salmonella.  Tom Billy was cranially deficient to claim in court  that SB  had insanitary plant conditions which INTRODUCED salmonella into its ground beef.  If indeed SB had insanitary conditions, such conditions would have been previously noted in multiple NR’s, which did not exist.  Neither did the alleged insanitary conditions.

      FSIS intentionally stuck its head in the sand on this SB litigation.  I’m not sure the agency has yet to learn its garbage in, garbage out lesson. 

      There are two retail meat markets in Michigan currently experiencing recalls.  Both sold raw ground beef to a restaurant which produced a meat dish using raw ground beef, causing several illnesses.  Did the restaurant INTRODUCE Salmonella into the dish?  No.  Using FSIS’s mislead SB thinking, the agency would charge the restaurant with INTRODUCING Salmonella in the meat dish and operating under insanitary conditions.  All the while totally ignoring that a slaughter plant somewhere which produced unsafe meat.  If all such restaurants and all retail meat markets making raw ground beef were shuttered for alleged insanitation, public health would not benefit.  Why?  Because FSIS conveniently refuses to require corrective actions at the source slaughter plant, which is allowed to continue operations as is.

      Maybe performance standards make sense?  However, standards must be mandated at the SOURCE, not the downstream destination.  FSIS totally disagrees.

      John Munsell

    • Phyllis E

      Richard, I blame FSIS for (a) misapplying the law in the first place and trapping itself into this court decision and (b) not having the courage to take the necessary steps to do for Salmonella what it did for E. coli O157:H7 (and, eventually, the 6 other STECs). I worked, for several years, at Canada’s Health Protection Branch (now defunct) and was responsible on several occasions for helping to brief government attorneys on microbiological issues. I was appalled at how often the attorneys screwed up. In one instance, the attorney argued all sorts of fine points of law to make the government’s case; then, as an afterthought, inserted a pro forma argument on the scientific merits. The judge threw out all the picayune “legal arguments” and ruled based on the science. Had the HPB experts not insisted on the attorney introducing the scientific arguments, we would have lost that case.

  • MrMcFritters

    Sadly, the FDA is not immune from such nonsense either.  The documents accompanying the FSMA proposed rules at several points mentions that post-kill step environmental contamination is a known hazard in nut butter production, yet peanut shellers are permitted to ship salmonella contaminated raw peanuts so long as their processing does not increase the salmonella load coming in from the field.  Of course it is the raw peanuts that are a prime source of the environmental contamination in nut butter plants in the first place.  So much for root-cause analysis.

  • johnmunsell

    Guy Lonergan, professor of epidemiology and animal health at Texas Tech University has done studies with his staff which proves that Salmonella can be found in lumph nodes.  Other groups have made the same conclusions.  So, what should be done about this?  Should the packer and/or processor remove as many lymph nodes as possible?  If the lymph nodes are embedded deep within a muscle, removal may be impossible. 

    I suggest that the detection of Salmonella unwittingly deposited onto carcass exteriors on the kill floor should be high priority.  Extensive testing of carcasses, post kill floor, should be conducted by both FSIS and the abattoir.  Plants with ongoing lab positives need to implement corrective actions.  This, coupled with possible removal of lymph nodes would be of benefit to our industry.

    John Munsell