Today the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced a recall of ground beef products due to possible Salmonella contamination. According to the press release, “Beef Packers, Inc. [BPI]…is recalling approximately 825,769 pounds of ground beef products that may be linked to an outbreak of salmonellosis.” The link between confirmed Salmonella infections and consumption of BPI ground beef products was first discovered by the Colorado Department of Public Health, and a subsequent traceback investigation conducted by FSIS.

This recall was, for me, surprising news—and also inexplicable given the USDA’s long-held position that Salmonella is not an adulterant per se in raw meat, and the meat industry’s prior success in getting a court to invalidate Salmonella performance standards that the USDA had tried to implement as part of its Pathogen Reduction, HACCP regulations adopted in 1996. So when I read about this recall, my first thought was to wonder why BPI agreed to the recall. (Remember: FSIS lacks the statutory authority to compel a recall.) And my second thought was: I wonder if the meat industry is going to sue the USDA to try and prevent the Agency from seeking a second recall in the future based on possible Salmonella contamination.

I obviously cannot answer either of these questions. But I can provide some useful background information about why this particular recall is so surprising, and so inexplicable. (And, by the way, by inexplicable I mean that it is nearly impossible to explain how FSIS could take this action in light of 25 years worth of policy and court decisions that would appear to suggest that the Agency has no authority to do what it did. The recall is certainly NOT inexplicable from a public health and safety perspective, which is certainly ironic given the fact that the FSIS has the term “safety” in its name, and doing something in favor of safety should not be inexplicable.)

And so now onto some history:
Continue Reading BPI Ground Beef Salmonella Recall: Will the Meat Industry Sue, and Who Will the USDA stand up for?