July 23, 2024

USDA Doubtful They Can Pinpoint Source of Contaminated Hannaford Ground Beef

The USDA said last Friday, January 27, 2012, that they don’t believe they will be able to pinpoint the source of the Salmonella-tainted beef the Hannaford chain used to make ground beef. That beef caused an outbreak that sickened 19 people in December 2011 with an antibiotic-resistant strain of the bacteria.

Ground Beef in White Container -Photographed on Hasselblad H3D-39mb CameraThe USDA and FDA can track down the original source of contaminated food “90% of the time”, according to Richard J. McIntire, a spokesman for the Food Safety and Inspection Service, a branch of the USDA.

The government has said that “high risk practices” used by the store, such as grinding together beef from various sources and trimmings from meat sold in the store, contributed to the outbreak. The store also had slack record-keeping of beef sources that made it impossible to track the source of the bad meat. That lack of record-keeping does not violate federal law, but that may change this year.

Hannaford also ground meat from different sources and trim batches without cleaning the equipment between grindings, which may have cross-contaminated a large batch of the ground beef with a small batch of contaminated meat. Once again, there is no federal regulation that requires equipment cleaning in between batch grindings, although the USDA “recommends it.”

The USDA has made a habit of proposing recommendations about “best practices” to beef processors and handlers, but not making those recommendations legal requirements. Unfortunately, many retailers and processors do not follow the best practice guidelines, putting consumers at risk.

Hannaford has said they now keep track of beef sources and clean their equipment before and after grinding trimmings. Since trimmings from beef cuts have a lower sanitary standard, it’s possible that those trimmings contaminated the ground beef. There’s just no way to know for sure.

Representative Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) has said that if the USDA doesn’t turn these recommendations into legal requirements soon, she will write legislation to force those practices into law.

This is the timeline of the Hannaford outbreak:

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