Federal and Massachusetts State officials continue to investigate the circumstances that led to the recall of 2,574 pounds of beef products from Adams Farm in Athol, Massachusetts.   The USDA announced the recall on Monday, January 11, saying the recall resulted from a ground beef sample that tested positive for E. coli O157:H7 during an illness investigation.  

The products involved were not Adams’ own retail brand, but rather ground beef and other beef products produced at Adams’ slaughterhouse for three farms/retailers.  The USDA stated:

The following products are subject to recall:

1,025-pounds of "Beef Cuts and Ground" packed for Mazzarese. (Warren, MA)
697-pounds of "Beef Cuts and Ground" packed for Side Hill Farm. (Ashfield, MA)
852-pounds of "Beef Cuts and Ground" packed for Sweet Water Farm. (Petersham, MA)

A follow up article in the Worcester Telegram yesterday focused on investigators’ attempts to determine at which farm the E. coli O157:H7 "originated"  The two farms whose representatives provided comment for the story both indicated that they did not think their farm was the culprit:

Nicole Burton, a manager at Sweetwater Farm in Petersham, said state and federal health officials have not determined whether the beef came from a farm or the slaughterhouse.   “I want to be clear that tests have not been done on our farm or investigated,” Ms. Burton said.

Sidehill farm representatives had a similar message:

Amy Klippenstein, owner of Sidehill Farm in Ashfield, said someone from the USDA told her that someone got sick from the beef from an animal at a different farm.  “We have all the beef, and none of it has been sold,” Ms. Klippenstein said. “We are not concerned about people eating our beef.” 

New information in the Telegram  today does seem to point toward the third farm as the original source of the implicated beef:

Jennifer L. Manley, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Health, said that on Jan. 7, 13 meat samples from a family that received a quarter cow share from a farm in Warren [presumably Mazzarese] were tested. She said ground beef samples and a representative selection of the intact cuts tested positive for E. coli. DNA analysis needed to determine where the animal came from will not be completed until either tomorrow or Monday. 

The focus on the source of the actual cattle is interesting.  It is a well known fact that a significant portion of cattle harbor E. coli O157:H7.   The regulations and HACCP plans in place to eliminate E. coli O157:H7 from retail products are not currently aimed or designed at preventing such contamination at the farm level.  To the contrary these regulations and safety plans essentially ask that slaughterhouses work under the assumption of the presence of E. coli O157:H7 in cattle, and then call for steps to prevent the contamination of meet with the bacteria during the slaughtering process.

In other words, presumptively identifying the farm where the E. coli O157:H7 came from is not the end of the story.   Rather, what needs to be determined is why was this bacteria allowed access to finished raw product during the manufacturing process.