Avoiding The Burgers

Ken AshfordHealth CareLeave a Comment

Last week, the USDA issued a Class I Recall (Health Risk: High) for 331,582 pounds of ground beef.  Then they expanded the recall to 21,700,000 pounds of ground beef.

How much hamburger is that?

A lot.

21.7 million pounds of ground beef just happens to be an entire year’s worth of production.

Topps Meat Company LLC has expanded its recall to include 21.7 million pounds (9,800 tonnes) of ground beef products that may be contaminated with E. coli bacteria, the Elizabeth, New Jersey-based company said on Saturday.

The beef has a “sell by date” or “best if used by date” between September 25, 2007, and September 25, 2008.

Here’s an interesting short-term history of how such a thing could happen.  The problem really started under Clinton ("Big Dog") — but things got far far worse under Bush’s deregulation policies:

You see, up until 1997 the USDA actually had US Government inspectors in the slaughterhouses, inspecting each chicken and steer and lamb and pig and turkey carcass.

Looking for things like infections and tumors and worms and pus.

Oh – and the chicken shit and the cow shit and the pig shit that carries the E Coli, Salmonella, and Campylobacter so many of our local ER’s – and coroners – have come to know and love.

Under Big Dog, in 1997 the USDA stepped away from the slaughterhouse when industry stepped up and “volunteered” to push the USDA inspectors off the production lines.

The USDA’s inspection arm – the Food Safety and Inspection Service – handed over their inspections to Big Slaugterhouse “volunteers”, in a nifty new program called HACCP

Gee – I wonder which slaughterhouses were the first to “volunteer” for the new program that allow more shit in their products?

Well – any slaughterhouse that wanted to speed up the lines: and make more money.

The self-inspection program, which was implemented in 1997 in a handful of plants that volunteered for the project, originally used only company “inspectors” to examine carcasses. The program was revised in 2000 to require a token government inspector at the end of the slaughter line to observe tens of thousands of carcasses rapidly moving by each day. However, the inspector may not look inside carcasses, where much contamination resides. The HIMP program also relies on chemical washes, sprays and other “interventions” to treat contamination that is still on the carcass.

Under the prior inspection system, beef, pork and poultry were inspected continuously during slaughter and processing by government inspectors who relied on sight, touch and smell to check for animal disease or fecal matter. There were two to four inspectors per plant, and slaughter lines were much slower.

And by July of 2000, how was the brave new system working?

Delmer Jones, a federal food inspector for 41 years, told Scripps Howard News Service he’s so revolted by the lowering of food wholesomeness standards that he doesn’t buy meat at the supermarket anymore because he doesn’t trust that it is safe to eat. “I eat very little to no meat, but
sardines and fish,” said Jones, president of the National Joint Council of Meat Inspection Locals. The union of some 7,000 meat inspectors is affiliated with the American Federation of Government Employees. He said he’s trying to get his wife to stop eating meat.

The News Service reports that the union is battling related USDA plans to rely on scientific testing of samples of butchered meats to determine the wholesomeness of meat, rather than traditional item-by-item scrutiny by federal inspectors.

USDA began carrying out the new policy as part of a pilot project in 24 slaughterhouses last October and plans to expand the system nationwide. It will cover poultry, beef and pork. The agency has extended until Aug. 29 the time for the public to comment on the regulations and won’t issue final rules until after the comments are received.

Jones and consumer groups say production lines are moving so fast that they can’t catch all the diseased carcasses, and some are ending up on supermarket shelves. “When I started inspecting, inspectors were looking at 13 birds a minute, then 40, and now it’s 91 birds a minute with three inspectors,” Jones said. “You cannot do your job with 91 birds a minute.

By November of 2001 , the LA Times reported:

One study shows that one in five samples of ground meat obtained in U.S. supermarkets carried antibiotic-resistant salmonella.

Another study found that more than half of the chickens bought from 26 supermarkets in Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota and Oregon carried resistant forms of the sometimes fatal enterococcus bacterium.

A gradual gutting of the nation’s meat inspection work force and authority in recent decades means that regulations and measures don’t catch even the unintentional introductions of these contaminants. In the first nine months of 2001, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced 60 recalls totaling nearly 30 million pounds of meat.

Of course the Bushies turned this around, right?

Unless you’ve been living under a pile of pus meat by-products on the packing house floor, you’ve bet your sweet burger they didn’t. Packinghouse food safety has fallen through the microbe-covered floors:

In 2007, Consumer Reports found:

CR’s analysis of fresh, whole broilers bought nationwide revealed that 83 percent harbored campylobacter or salmonella, the leading bacterial causes of foodborne disease.

That’s a stunning increase from 2003, when we reported finding that 49 percent tested positive for one or both pathogens. Leading chicken producers have stabilized the incidence of salmonella, but spiral-shaped campylobacter has wriggled onto more chickens than ever


Campylobacter was present in 81 percent of the chickens, salmonella in 15 percent; both bacteria in 13 percent. Only 17 percent had neither pathogen. That’s the lowest percentage of clean birds in all four of our tests since 1998, and far less than the 51 percent of clean birds we found for our 2003 report.

And this brings us back to how when know when our meat and poultry have shit in them.

We get sick.

Remember the lovely new HAACP system started under Big Dog and extended under the Bushies?

Under that system, the few Federal inspectors who actually get near a carcass in the slaughter house can look – but not sample – for bugs.

“These plants look like drive-through car washes: The car enters with fecal material inside and out, and it leaves all pretty and shiny on the outside. But what about the inside? In a HIMP plant, no one is looking at the inside,” said Delmer Jones, president of the National Joint Council of Food Inspection Locals, the union for federal meat inspectors. “Instead of addressing that problem, the USDA would rather spend millions of taxpayer dollars telling consumers how great the outside of the car looks.”

Added Hauter, “This program is just another attempt to deregulate a powerful industry, and just as with electricity deregulation, it’s the consumer who loses. Most consumers would be appalled to find out that the USDA has even considered reducing the meat inspection system to an industry honor system.”

That’s right – no bacterial sampling allowed by those pesky USDA inspectors – after all, they might actually find something.

They are allowed to eyeball the carcass. If they find a problem, can they stop the line or pull the carcass? Nope. They’re supposed to run down the production line and – wait for it – watch…

to see if the company’s people find it, too.

So instead of testing every carcass for shit in the packing house, the USDA tests them for shit in food using you – the public.