Amid Recalls and Illness, the USDA Says Food Safety is in Good Shape

Despite an overwhelming rash of food recalls and reports of sometimes <"">fatal food borne illnesses such as E. coli, Salmonella, Listeriosis, and Botulism this year, the head of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA)—Ed Schafer—is saying that food safety in the United States is doing just fine.  Meanwhile consumers are hearing about and living with nearly daily reports of federal government announcements about such recalls, some originating from the nations’ largest meat processors and grocery chains.

Most recently, Nebraska Beef Limited recalled millions of pounds that are linked to an ongoing multi-state E. coli outbreak.  And, just this week, Whole Food markets recalled ground beef produced from large cuts of prime meat from the same processor. As of yesterday, about a dozen people on the East Coast fell ill after eating food from the high-end natural food” supplier.  Despite all of this, Schafer told Reuters today that the number of contaminated products has declined in recent years and the situation is improving, saying, “I don’t believe that, from a USDA standpoint, we need to increase the number of inspectors or change the testing requirements.”  

It’s a bit surprising that the USDA feels the nation is in good shape.  Look at this list of recalls from the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) over the past week alone.  Bear in mind, each of these recalls can include dozens of individual wholesale or retail stores and this list generally reflects Class 1—a health hazard situation where there is reasonable probability that use of the product will result in serious, adverse health consequences or death—recalls only:

  • Today:  Renna’s Meat Marketis recalling about 780 pounds of ground beef products that may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.
  • Yesterday:  Palama Holdings LLC recalled about 4,535 pounds of fully cooked pork products over Listeria monocytogenes contamination concerns.
  • Yesterday: Stop & Shop Supermarket Company recalled its pre-packaged and deli service tuna salad over possible contamination with the Listeria monocytogenes.
  • August 11: Mars Petcare US recalled 100 20-pound bags of one brand of Pedigree pet food over Salmonella concerns.  Nutro pet food, which was not recalled, is being blamed by consumers for recent rash of pet illnesses and e deaths.
  • August 8:  Nebraska Beef Ltd., recalled 1.2 million additional pounds of primal cuts, sub-primal cuts, and boxed beef that may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.
  • August 7:  Dallas City Packing Inc. recalled nearly one million pounds of cattle heads with tonsils not completely removed, which is not compliant with regulations that require removal of tonsils from all cattle.
  • August 6:  S&S Foods LLC. recalled approximately 153,630 pounds of frozen ground beef products because they may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.
  • August 6:  Tyson Foods Inc. recalled 51,360 pounds of raw frozen chicken breast tenderloin products because they may contain an undeclared allergen—soy—which is not declared on the label.
  • August 5: Listeria monocytogenes was discovered in raw milk at Autumn Valley Farm in Worcester, New York.
  • August 5:  DBC Inc., doing business as World Class Canapes of Wilmington, Massachusetts, recalled about 285 pounds of ready-to-eat chicken products that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.
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