Salmonella Meat Processor Cited Prior to Outbreak

We have been following the ongoing recalls and <"">Salmonella-related sicknesses allegedly linked to Fresno, California’s Meat Packers Inc. Now, the Associated Press (AP) reports that Meat Packers Inc. received animal handling citations last year when it underwent a government review of such plants, according to official records.

Meat packing plants were reviewed following the largest beef recall in history, which was connected to a slaughterhouse in southern California, said the AP. As a result, Meat Packers Inc. and 17 other meat packing plants known to sell meat to the National School Lunch program were reviewed.

To date, a total of 826,000 pounds of ground beef were recalled, according to an earlier announcement by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). The recall was listed as a Class I, the most serious, which means there exists a health hazard situation in which there is a reasonable probability that use of the product will cause serious, adverse health consequences or death. At least 28 illnesses in three states appear to be Salmonella-related, said the AP.

According to the AP report citing March 2008 inspection records, USDA auditors found workers using electric prods to urge uncooperative cattle through a small chute that opened to the slaughterhouse. When three cows would not move, workers stunned the animals into unconsciousness “so that they could be pulled through the restrainer to be shackled, hung, and bled,” the records state, quoted the AP.

The risk for pathogenic food poisoning, such as E. coli and Salmonella, increases when cattle are treated in such a way because the animals, when dragged, can pick up the dangerous germs from waste products that end up on their hides and can contaminate the chute and surrounding area, according to experts, said the AP. “All kinds of feces and urine get into those chutes because they typically aren’t cleaned out during the day because too many animals need to get in,” said Lester Friedlander, a former USDA veterinary inspector, reported the AP.

Cargill Meat Solutions appealed the alleged violations and the FSIS rescinded the citations, sending Beef Packers a so-called letter of concern, said the AP. Cargill Meat Solutions is the parent company of Beef Packers.

To date, neither the agency nor the meat packer explained what led to the recall. Also, products subject to recall were repackaged into consumer-size packages and sold under different retail brand names. The FSIS is advising consumers to check with their local retailer to determine if they purchased products subject to recall.

As a result of the ongoing investigation into the Salmonella Newport outbreak, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) notified FSIS of the situation. Epidemiological and traceback investigations conducted by FSIS and CDPHE determined an association between the fresh ground beef products and illnesses reported in Colorado. The illnesses were also linked through the epidemiological investigation by their uncommon pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) pattern found in PulseNet, a national network of public health and food regulatory agency laboratories coordinated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

This particular strain of Salmonella Newport is resistant to many commonly prescribed drugs, which can increase the risk of hospitalization or possible treatment failure in infected individuals.

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