USDA Waited 18 Days to Recall Contaminated Beef that Sickened 28 People

Thursday, February 21, 2008 by: David Gutierrez, staff writer
Tags: meat recall, contaminated meat, health news

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(NaturalNews) According to an internal U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) e-mail obtained by the Chicago Tribune, the USDA waited 18 days after confirming that a Florida teenager had become sick from E. coli-contaminated meat before recommending a recall of the contaminated beef.

Under U.S. law, the USDA is only empowered to recommend product recalls and cannot force them. On Sept. 25 of last year, the day it received the USDA recommendation, Topps Meat recalled 331,000 pounds of frozen hamburger patties. On Sept. 29, Topps expanded this to 21.7 million pounds, or one year's worth of production.

Responding to the allegation that the USDA waited too long to recommend a recall, Undersecretary of Agriculture for Food Safety Richard Raymond admitted that "this agency is not completely satisfied with the time elapsed and the issuance of the recall. We will be reviewing data related to this recall as well as our own protocol to determine how we might improve."

But Raymond said that the delay was really only 11 days, not 18. The first seven days, according to USDA official David Goldman, were necessary to confirm that the bacteria identified in Topps meat was the same kind that had infected Florida teenager Samantha Safranek.

Goldman said that the agency waited 11 days after this because they fail to detect any more E. coli in Topps meat. The agency acted only when the state of New York confirmed that two people in that state had been infected by Topps meat. New York issued an instant consumer warning, which went public even before the product recall.

According to Raymond, the USDA has launched an investigation into why regular inspections failed to uncover E. coli contamination in Topps meat before people became sick.

Consumer health advocate Mike Adams is skeptical of the USDA's official explanation of the delay. "What we are routinely seeing in contaminated beef recalls now is a deliberate delay by the USDA designed to protect the profits of the beef industry. They know that the longer they wait to issue a recall, the more beef will have already been consumed by consumers, thereby greatly reducing the amount of contaminated beef returned to stores for a refund," Adams said. "By delaying the announcement of the recall, the USDA protects the interests of the beef industry at the expense of public health. And yes, I believe they are doing it deliberately. Just look at who works for the USDA: Former beef industry executives!"

On October 5, Topps Meat announced that it was going out of business because it was unable to "overcome the reality of a recall this large."

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