It’s a study in contrasts: two companies have announced recalls for the same product for the same reasons, but they’re handling the issue in completely different ways.
Last Thursday, J.F. O’Neill Packing Co., in Omaha, Neb., recalled more than 33,000 pounds of beef tongue after the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) found that much of it may have been distributed to retailers with the tonsils still attached.
Then on Saturday, Cargill Meat Solutions Corporation issued a similar recall for more than 5,500 pounds of beef tongue processed at its Milwaukee, Wis., plant. Officials at J.F. O’Neill, however, went almost immediately on the defensive; while Cargill has accepted responsibility for their recall.
The FSIS requires the removal of tonsils from cattle of all ages as a defense against bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as Mad Cow Disease.
When called last week and asked how inspectors could have missed 33,000 pounds of inappropriately trimmed beef tongue, J.F. O’Neill Quality Assurance Director Steve Brown replied, “That’s our argument,” stating the federal meat inspectors should have caught the mistake.
The FSIS disagreed, but not very clearly at first.
“Federally inspected establishments are responsible for assuring that the products they process and produce are safe, wholesome and unadulterated,” the FSIS said, in response to Brown’s accusations. “Inspection personnel are responsible for conducting activities that verify that these establishments are meeting those responsibilities.”
That response “does not mean that the FSIS is accepting responsibility for the recall,” said Neil Gaffney, press officer for FSIS, a little later. “The company is responsible.”
J.F. O’Neill officials may disagree, but they’re not doing so publicly anymore. Brown could only reply “no comment” to various questions Monday about the FSIS’s insistence that the company is responsible for the recall.
Meanwhile, in Milwaukee, Mark Klein, Cargill’s media director, said the company accepts full responsibility for its own recall. The international conglomerate recalled 5,522 pounds of beef tongue after inspectors discovered tonsil tissue was still attached. Klein wouldn’t elaborate on the cause for the recall, but acknowledged the problem was in-house.
“It was just an oversight on our part, and ultimately, it’s Cargill who’s responsible for this,” said Klein in a phone interview. “In our case, it shows the USDA inspectors are doing their job.”
The health risk involved in the two beef tongue recalls is low, according to FSIS. However, when it comes to Mad Cow Disease, beef packers cannot be too careful. Tyson’s, for example, just had Japan ban beef from one of its plants after a box of spinal bones was exported to the Asian nation by mistake.
Eric S. Burkett is a San Francisco-based Kitchen manger, cook and freelance writer.