Cargill Continues to Struggle with Ground Beef Safety Issues

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Beef Packers, Inc., owned by Cargill, announced late last week that it is recalling over 20,000 pounds of ground beef contaminated with a drug-resistant strain of salmonella. It is the second time this year the company has recalled meat distributed for consumer sale.

Safeway Grocery store announced that the recall affects ground beef sold at its stores in Arizona and New Mexico and has been pulled from store shelves. The meat involved was produced on September 23rd, 2009 and includes fresh ground beef, beef patties, meatballs, and stuffed peppers with a sell-by date between September 28th and October 11th, 20009. The labels include the establishment number EST.31913 marked on the case code labels.

The Arizona Department of Health Services has linked two illnesses to the ground beef.

In August 2009, the California-based Beef Packers recalled almost 826,000 pounds of ground beef contaminated with the same strain of salmonella that prompted the current recall. At least 39 people were sickened.

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The strain of bacteria involved is called Salmonella Newport. Infections can be life-threatening, especially to young children, the elderly, and people with weak immune systems, particularly because it is resistant to many of the most commonly prescribed antibiotics. Symptoms include diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps and vomiting that can last up to seven days.

Beef packers had previously been a major supplier of beef products to the National School Lunch Program. Since July 2009, the company appears to have discontinued the relationship, as it has been suspended three times – twice for failing to produce ground beef free of microorganisms.

Salmonella hasn’t been Cargill’s only food safety concern. Recently a dance instructor from Cold Spring, Minnesota, filed a $100 million lawsuit against the company that alleges that they are responsible for a contamination of ground beef from E. coli 0157:H7, another deadly bacterial organism that causes food-borne illness.

Stephanie Smith consumed the tainted meat two years ago at a fall family cookout. The Minnesota Department of Health and the US Department of Agriculture traced her contaminated meat to the company’s plant in Butler, Wisconsin and sold under the “Sam’s Club” brand. Ms. Smith suffered severe consequences as a result of the illness, was hospitalized for more than six months, and today undergoes rehabilitation in the hopes of relearning to walk.

The company recalled 845,000 pounds of ground beef after learning of the contamination in October 2007.
Consumers who have questions about the current ground beef recall should contact Cargill’s Consumer Line at 877-435-4071. The Food Safety and Inspection Service also has consumer information available at 888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854)

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