In 1992 and 1993 when the Jack in the Box E. coli O157:H7 Outbreak occurred, and I got my introduction as an attorney to outbreak-related litigation, the meat industry looked very different than it does so today. The company that manufactured the hamburger patties for Jack in the Box—Vons Companies, Inc.—purchased meat to grind into hamburger from numerous companies, including Beef Packers Inc., Cattleman’s Choice, Fresno Meat Co., Monfort Inc., Orleans International Inc., RBR Meat Co., Service Packing Co. and Westland Inc. At the time, most of these companies were regionally-based, and not vertically integrated. Consequently, there were separate companies that ran slaughterhouse, boning operations, and packers, each sourcing from within their more immediate area of operations. There were also local and regional feedlots.

Today, that has all changed. Instead, there are huge mega-plants that combine all aspects of meat-production in a single, tightly integrated operation that produces meat products that are then distributed nationwide. That is why when you have E. coli O157:H7 outbreak involving meat products, the illness and death are widely spread, and the initial source of the contamination is sometimes difficult to trace back to its source. Back in the day, it simply was not possible to have product recalls involving millions of pounds of meat because no one was really producing and distributing it on that scale.So if you are looking for an additional argument in favor of a more local and regional based food supply, the prevention of mega-outbreak, courtesy of “Big Meat” (also known as the mega-meat industry, or  Cargill/Conagra/Tyson triumvirate), is definitely a compelling one–in my humble opinion.

With this thought in mind, click on the Continue Reading link and check out a press release that was forwarded to me yesterday, which announced a recently released report about the demise of local small meat processing operations. And if you’re so inclined, read the entire report. It’s worth your time.Continue Reading A Big Reason Outbreaks involving meat are so big: Mega-Meat Plants

For years, the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has allowed meat plants to divert meat that has tested positive for E. coli O157:H7 (or some other pathogen) to a further-processing facility where it is cooked for a time and at a temperature sufficient to kill the pathogens.  What FSIS has not done, however, is require immediate corrective action of the plant’s slaughter and sanitary dressing procedures so as to determine how the meat came to be contaminated in the first place.  Because, let us be clear: ground beef, trimmings, an intact cuts of meat do not get contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 unless the carcass is contaminated, or cross-contaminated, druing the slaughter or carcass-dressing process.  Bottom-line: Meat is not contaminated but for the manner of its slaughter and dressing. 

So lax has been the FSIS focus on and oversight of the slaughter and dressing process that it has routinely allowed plants to send meat that has tested presumptively positive for E. coli O157:H7 to be sent for further-processing without requiring that confrimatory testing be done.  This give the plant a free pass by avoiding a confirmed positive test result for E. coli O157:H7, something that would be higly likely to prompt a comprehenisve assessment at the plant, and the requirement that the plant’s HACCP plan be re-assessed and re-validated.  This also allows both the plant and FSIS to pretend that the Slaughter HACCP plan has not failed for not reduciing E. coli O157:H7 to an "undetectable level"–something that FSIS policy has required since October 7, 2002.

Now, if in reading the above the image of an ostrich with its head in the sand came to mind, then you are definitely grasping the gist of my criticism here.  But, that said, I am happy to report that FSIS finally seems to have pulled its proverbial head out of the sand and seen the light. 

Yesterday the agency issued FSIS Directive 6410.1, and it is a very good thing indeed.  For more on this, please hit the CONTINUED READING link.Continue Reading USDA Sees the Light on E. coli O157:H7 and Meat

Sharon Cohen of the Associated Press reports that Martin Cortez works in a world of long knives and huge saws, blood and bone, arctic chill and sweltering heat. This is life on the line as a meatpacker.
It’s no place for the squeamish. Some workers can’t stomach the gore — chopping up the meat and bones of hundreds of cattle, day after day. Cortez has been at it more than 30 years. It also can be very dangerous. Some workers have been slashed, burned or scarred. He has not.
Even so, Martin Cortez, a soft-spoken man with sad eyes, doesn’t recommend the work. The thrashing animals, the heavy lifting … all that goes into putting steak and hamburger on America’s dinner tables, he says, makes for a backbreaking day on the killing floor.Continue Reading Meatpacking-A new jungle?