The ground beef product that was recalled last week by two South Carolina-based manufacturers was imported from Australia and contaminated before it arrived, according to one of the importers.
After testing conducted by the South Carolina Meat and Poultry Inspection Department revealed E. coli in a sample of boxed beef from Australia, two U.S. companies – G & W, Inc. and Lancaster Frozen Foods – recalled almost 7,000 pounds of ground beef products made with meat sourced from the foreign producer.
“We never sold the box that was contaminated but we went ahead and did a recall on everything that was in that lot number,” Emily Clayton, director of operations at G & W told Food Safety News.
A detailed list of those products made with beef from the contaminated lot is available here.
The boxed beef was imported in March and then stored in freezers before being processed into ground beef products, which were produced between March 2 and May 11 at Lancaster Frozen Foods and between March 2 and April 12 at G&W.
While several hundred pounds of the product had not yet been distributed, the majority of it was processed and sold, says JoAnna Clayton, vice president of G & W.
According to Clayton, the sample of the contaminated meat was collected by S.C. Meat and Poultry Inspection in April, weeks before her company was notified that it contained E. coli.
“If the test was done in April why didn’t they know before now that there was a problem?” she asks.
Pulsed-Field Gel Electrophoresis (PFGE) tests – the kind government agencies rely on to confirm pathogen presence in food – usually take around a week to process, but this recall came well outside of that time frame.
None of the other beef from the lot containing the contaminated box tested positive for pathogens, according to Emily Clayton.
This is the first time the company has had a problem with a contaminated product, she says.
Contamination in beef from Australia is also a rare event. Australian beef accounts for around 20 percent of the beef imported into the U.S.. Between March 2011 and March of 2012, the United States imported approximately 560 million pounds of beef from Australia.
Beef from the country has one of the best safety records among American imports. A 2007 study found that boneless beef trim from Australia had a lower concentration of pathogens than the same meat from other countries that export to the U.S..
Clyde Hoskins, director of the S.C. Meat and Poultry Inspection Department, housed at Clemson University, told Food Safety News that the department cannot give out any more information on the origin of the contaminated meat until the investigation is concluded.
No illnesses have been associated with the products subject to this recall.