Four different ground meat recalls in the past month add a new dimension to the current wave of food safety awareness brought on by the September outbreak of Listeria in cantaloupe.
Piggybacking on that publicity, the recalls of a combined total of 734,000 pounds of ground beef and turkey bring attention to E. coli and and salmonella and how they’re tested for; both bacteria can cause serious illness and at times death in those with weak immune systems.
“We’re going to recall any meat, poultry and processed-egg product when we have evidence it could harm consumers,” said a spokesperson with the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), the government agency that worked on the recent Commercial Meat Company recall of ground beef.
In the case of the Commercial recall, the problem was discovered through testing, but only after the meat had shipped to restaurants in California and Nevada.
Commercial Meat did not hold product pending test results and that resulted in this recall, said the spokesperson.
“The thing about testing is that you can test and test and test and you’re still going to have E. coli,” he said.
Other recalls of ground meat in the past 30 days include Cargill’s second recall of ground turkey, ground beef by Palo Duro Meat, and Tyson Fresh Meats’s recall for ground beef, as well. Tyson declined to comment.
The FSIS said that there isn’t necessarily an increase in ground meat recalls, but acknowledged an increase in consumer awareness of food safety and food borne illnesses.
The Cargill ground turkey recalls for salmonella (here and here) and FDA’s cantaloupe recall for listeria have been the most prominent this year in terms of their large scale and subsequent headlines.
Not all strains of E.coli are currently tested, but the FSIS is expanding its testing. The FSIS will be able to accurately test products for Non-O157 E.coli, or Shiga Toxin E. coli, referred to as STEC, beginning in March 2012.
“We have to make sure we put as many prevention-based measures in place to protect consumers,” said the FSIS spokesperson. “We want to make sure prevention guides all of our actions.”
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