Maybe you haven’t, but upon returning to my seat from the concession stand at a Major League Baseball game when I noticed on the scoreboard that the home team’s pitcher still had not given up a hit going into the 7th inning, I have spoken up about it.
When you do that and you are lucky, the folks sitting nearby will only throw beer at you.
Baseball fans know the rule. You don’t talk about a “no-hitter” while it’s in progress and you are not supposed to make those spontaneous utterances that I have been guilty of on such occasions.
USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has a “no-hitter” of its own in progress.
Massive beef recalls for E. coli O157: H7 by the nation’s major producers were once routine, but are now rare. FSIS would like to keep it that way, but they don’t talk about much for the same reason that you are not supposed to talk about a late-inning no-hitter.
When I crossed paths at IAFP in Salt Lake City last month with Carmen Rottenberg, I asked her about the streak, meaning those one million pound plus beef recalls by major producers over E. coli contamination. The Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety responded only by looking around for some wood to knock on.
But what about last week, when on Aug. 23 Cargill Meat Solutions in Fort Morgan, CO announced the recall approximately 25,288 pounds of ground beef products for possible E. coli O157: H7 contamination? Cargill is one of the nation’s top 3 producers, and it recalled beef for E. coli contamination, but 25,288 pounds is a small amount compared to what was normal in the old bad old days.
Back in 2007, for example in two recalls within a week of each other, Topps recalled 21.7 million pounds of hamburger for E. coli O157; H7. The 21.7 million pound recall came after another major producer recalled 5.7 million pounds of beef just weeks earlier.
As a “then and now” tail, it’s some contrast. Big beef plants before 2010 were recalling millions upon millions of pounds of E. coli-laced meat from God knows exactly where around the country. Once in a while, even we must acknowledge now is not like the bad old days.
On the morning after Cargill’s recall was announced, Albertsons, Safeway, Pak ‘N Save, and Vons stores were out with lists of stores and products that had received the contaminated beef. The four retailers said any beef they processed in proximity to the Cargill beef was also being recalled.
The four retailers by-the-way issued their information jointly, making it as consumer-friendly as possible. That’s also something we did not see in 2007 and is another sign that business is taking food safety seriously.
The dramatic reductions in E. coil O157: H7 in meat is what deserves more attention. It’s not just the end of the routine massive recalls, but overall positive trends.
In five of eight years since 2010, the number of recalls for O157 were in single digits. In eight recalls last year, less one percent of all recalled product involved E. coli O157: H7.
In 2007, by comparison, 22 recalls for E. coli contamination involved one in every four pounds of the product taken off the market. Meat recalls for E. coli O157: H7 today are more likely to be for a few hundred pounds or this or that, or some mixed meat products.
Small recalls mixed in with an occasional event as large as Cargill’s, but gone are the days when major beef plants were calling back more than a day’s full production. One has to look back to May 19, 2014, for a fresh beef recall for E. coli O157: H7 of more than one million pounds. That was the day that brought Detroit-based Wolverine Packing Company’s 1.8 million pound recall of ground beef for E. coli.
Since that is only four years ago, one has to assume a one million plus pound beef recall is still possible. But for now, let’s celebrate the week past in which there were a producer and some retailers who showed some panache in what they were doing.
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