Hannaford’s lawyers must be scratching their heads over how easily the 19-victim, 7-state outbreak of Salmonella Typhimurium could have been somebody else’s outbreak.  Hannafords stores didn’t keep records that showed the source of all the trimmings that they used when they ground their beef for resale, and the result is, not only will we never know the identity of the beef company that sold Hannafords the Salmonella-contaminated beef, but also Hannafords will have to foot the bill of a bunch of lawsuits entirely by itself. 

Leslie Bridgers at the Portland Press Herald wrote today:

Officials from the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service said Friday that they plan to close the investigation within a week.

The officials said Hannaford’s “high-risk practices” for grinding beef were the barrier in their investigation, although those practices did not break any regulatory requirements and are probably used by other meat retailers.

Even though there was no regulatory violation by Hannafords sloppy recordkeeping, an inability to identify the beef company that sold them the bad beef means that there will be no “contribution” (i.e. money) from any other company to pay victims medical and other costs.

And then there is the other reason that this outbreak is Hannaford’s outbreak and nobody else’s:

Daniel Engeljohn, assistant administrator of the Food Safety and Inspection Service, said it was not always clear from Hannaford’s records when the stores were grinding the trimmings. Investigators found that Hannaford would grind trimmings and tube meat without cleaning the equipment in between, he said, raising the possibility of cross-contamination.

Engeljohn noted that there is a lower sanitary standard for the cuts of meat that are used for trimmings than there is for the ground beef that comes in tubes.

There is no requirement that equipment be cleaned between grinds of meat from different companies, Engeljohn said, but the USDA has told retailers for several years that it recommends it, along with more complete information in grinding logs.

A little self-policing would go a long way for Hannafords in the future.