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From: TSS (
Subject: MAJOR BEEF RECALL IN U.S. and "the blood-oath" to keep the information from the public
Date: August 5, 2004 at 9:17 am PST

Major beef recall in U.S.
Although none of the meat likely was sold in state, new fears arise about secrecy deal.
By Jon Ortiz and Mike Lee -- Bee Staff Writers
Published 2:15 am PDT Thursday, August 5, 2004

A massive recall of frozen beef swept the nation Wednesday, rekindling fears in California that state officials don't get enough specifics about such recalls and couldn't tell consumers even if they did.

None of the beef in question was thought to have been sold in California, but critics have seized on uncertainty surrounding the announcement to blast the state Department of Health's 2-year-old agreement with the federal government that keeps beef recall details from the public.

Carneco Foods LLC, a 360-employee processing company based in Columbus, Neb., recalled about 497,000 pounds of frozen ground beef over concerns that it may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7. The bacterium can cause severe diarrhea and dehydration; it can lead to death in the worst cases, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The recall affects various six-, eight-and 10-pound packages of ground beef and beef patties sold exclusively to Sam's Club, said John Schaller, Carneco's vice president of operations. He said distribution of the recalled beef was largely limited to the upper Midwest and New England, although shipments went as far west as Utah.

Sam's Club spokeswoman Jolanda Stewart confirmed that none of the beef was sold in California. She said the firm pulled the remaining product from its shelves in other states.

The USDA's announcement said only that the recalled beef was sent to "retail stores nationwide."

That vague phrase angered Alameda County Public Health Officer Anthony Iton, who testified Wednesday before the Assembly Appropriations Committee in support of a bill mandating that businesses tell state officials if they've transported or sold recalled beef or poultry.

"I don't even know if (the recalled meat) is in California," Iton said. "The USDA won't tell you anything about any state other than Nebraska, where the recalled meat came from."

USDA policy treats details of voluntary beef recalls, such as customer lists and delivery manifests, as secret business information.

The department's position was tested in 2002, when the agency refused to give California's Department of Health Services distribution lists associated with a similar E. coli outbreak. Later that year, DHS signed off on an agreement with USDA, promising to keep recall details secret in exchange for information about where recalled beef was sent in the state. The agreement became a point of controversy in December when recalled beef associated with a case of mad cow disease made its way into restaurants and grocery stores in a dozen California counties.

The names of the restaurants were kept from the public by DHS, and some of the beef was consumed by unaware customers. County health officials also received the information - with the caveat that they adhere to the USDA agreement and keep it secret.

A few restaurants in Iton's jurisdiction received some of that recalled meat, but California officials withheld specifics from his office after he refused to take what he called "the blood-oath" to keep the information from the public.

The mad cow case spurred Iton and his counterparts in the Health Officers Association of California to support SB 1585, a meat recall disclosure bill co-authored by Democratic Sens. Jackie Speier of Hillsborough and Mike Machado of Linden.

In addition to forcing businesses affected by a recall to give pertinent information to DHS, the measure allows state authorities to notify local health officials and the public. Restaurants would be exempt from public disclosure if no recalled product is on site at the time of inspection by state agents.

Carneco's Schaller said it was too soon to know what contaminated the half-million pounds of beef recalled Wednesday, but he said that the company was cooperating with USDA to find the source. Schaller said he expects that little beef will be returned because most of it was shipped before the Fourth of July, a huge day for beef consumption. Presumably, most of the beef already has been eaten.

"We are optimistic," he said, declining to speculate about what the recall would cost the firm.

Beef recall
• Recalled products were produced by Carneco Foods on June 21 and include a variety of 6-, 8-and 10-pound packages of frozen beef.

• None is known to have been sold in California.

• All the recalled beef bears an establishment number of "EST. 245P" inside the USDA inspection seal. Most of it also is marked with "Best by 12/18/04" and the packaging code of 17304.

• The USDA urges consumers to return recalled meat to the store where it was purchased.

• The agency recommends that other ground beef should be cooked to 160 degrees to kill any harmful bacteria. Color is not a reliable indicator of temperature, and consumers should use a food thermometer to make sure their meat is fully cooked, according to federal health guidelines.

• The beef may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7, a potentially deadly bacterium that can cause diarrhea and dehydration. The most susceptible groups are senior citizens, young children or others with weak immune systems.

Source: Bee research


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