In what might be much ado about a recall involving only 90 pounds of ground beef, private lab results are being used to call into question the accuracy of the original testing by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS).

Here’s what happened.

Fairbury Steaks in Fairbury, NE took a shipment of bull meat, frozen in 60-pound boxes from a Yankton, SD distributor, Cimpl’s LLC.  The bull meat came with a certificate of analysis that it had tested negative for E. coli.

Fairbury Steaks then visually inspected it and ground it into hamburger.  Ground beef for testing was collected for both FSIS and Omaha-based Midwest Laboratories.

The private lab reports came back negative on Nov. 14th, and FSIS’s report was returned on Nov.17 and was positive.   That resulted in a High Health Risk recall for the 90 pounds of beef.

“FSIS found evidence of E. coli, ” FSIS’s Neil Gaffney told the Lincoln Journal Star. “When we find evidence of E. coli we take action immediately to have the product removed from commerce, if necessary, by recall.”

The USDA-certified Midwest Laboratories is disputing that, saying its negative tests are no indication of error on the part of FSIS.

Dennis Brown, Fairbury Steaks owner, recovered all 90 pounds from the Ruskin, NE restaurant where it was shipped.   Brown has never in 23 years in business had any beef test positive for E. coli.

So, he had nine samples of the recalled and recovered beef and one sample from a replacement shipment to a customer all sent into Midwest for testing.

All came back negative.  Brown had the results sent to the Nebraska newspaper.

Brown suspects he has been the victim of either a false positive or cross-contamination at the government’s testing lab.

FSIS is not talking about that possibility.