The safety practices of Beef Products Inc., a South Dakota meat processor that treats beef trim with ammonia to eliminate E. coli and Salmonella, are being called into question. According to a recent New York Times report, Beef Products’ ammonia treatment method may not work as well against <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/topics/overview/e_coli_O157_H7">E. coli and <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/topics/overview/salmonella">Salmonella as the company claims.
Beef Products exposes its meat to ammonia gas, which raises its alkalinity, making it less hospitable to E. coli and Salmonella. According to The New York Times, the process has allowed Beef Products to engineer fattier beef trimmings – more susceptible to contamination – into a leaner product. Prior to the introduction of the ammonia method, such fatty trimmings were usually used to make pet food or cooking oil.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) was so impressed with Beef Products’ ammonia treatment method, and its supposed ability to reduce to E. coli and Salmonella pathogens to “undetectable” levels, that in 2007 it exempted the company from routine testing of ground beef. The Times said the USDA accepted the company’s internal research when it originally granted the exemption.
What’s more, Beef Products’ ground beef was also excluded from recalls, even when it was an ingredient in hamburgers found to be contaminated, because the USDA assumed it to be pathogen free.
But according to the New York Times report, meat sold by Beef Products to the National School Lunch Program, has tested positive three times for E. coli and 48 times for Salmonella since 2005. In fact, the firm was temporarily banned from selling meat to the program in July – the third time in three years.
Despite the latest ban on Beef Products’ meat for school lunches, the USDA has approved the sale of the firm’s meat to other customers. According to the Times, its ammonia-treated beef has become a component of the burgers sold at McDonaldâ€™s, Burger King and other fast-food restaurants, and it is also used by some grocery chains.
According to the Times, the alkalinity levels of the Beef Products’ beef has gone down, indicating less ammonia is being used in the treatment process. The firm has acknowledged that, but insists that the treatment is still effective.
The New York Times has shared the results of its Beef Products’ investigation with the USDA. In response, the agency said it was revoking Beef Productsâ€™ exemption from routine testing, reversing the recall stance, and conducting a review of the companyâ€™s operations and research.