In another weekend recall announcement, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported yesterday that Southern California-based Huntington Meat Packing Inc. has dramatically expanded its January 18th recall over E. coli O157:H7 concerns.

The Class I recall now includes approximately 4.9 million pounds of additional beef and veal products, sold under three different brand names: Huntington, Imperial Meat Co. and El Rancho brands. The original recall, announced by the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) about a month ago, included 864,000 pounds of meat.

According to public health officials, the recall has been expanded based on evidence collected in an ongoing criminal investigation involving the packing plant.

“Evidence shows that the products subject to this recall expansion were produced in a manner that did not follow the establishment’s Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) plan,” said the USDA in a statement yesterday. “The investigation has uncovered evidence to show that the food safety records of the establishment cannot be relied upon to document compliance with the requirements. Therefore, FSIS must consider the products to be adulterated and has acted to remove the products from commerce.”

The recalled meat was sold in 10, 20 and 50 pound boxed to distribution centers, restaurants and hotels in California between January 4th and January 22nd. The products all bear the establishment number “EST. 17967” within the USDA inspection label.

Huntington initially initiated the recall after FSIS personnel found a problem at the plant during a Food Safety Assessment (FSA). “The FSA led to the determination that a further investigation of establishment records was warranted,” said the agency in January.

E. coli O157:H7 is a potentially deadly bacterium that can cause bloody diarrhea, dehydration, and in the most severe cases, kidney failure. The very young, the elderly and persons with compromised immune systems are the most susceptible to foodborne illness.

According to FSIS, there have been no reports of illnesses connected to the recalled product.

U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), a longtime advocate for more stringent food regulation, said yesterday that the expanded recall illustrates the need for tougher enforcement.

“This recall dispels the notion that the meat industry can police itself to ensure the safety of meat products,” said DeLauro. “This is a company that failed to follow the food safety plan that it developed and may have knowingly produced meat products under unsanitary conditions.  Those products were then sold for consumption over a period of 347 days.  This is unacceptable and we should not allow companies to operate under this kind of regulatory regime.”