HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Whole Foods Announces Beef Recall

The Washington Post reports that Whole Foods Market is recalling fresh ground beef sold from June 2 through Aug. 6 because the beef might be contaminated with E. coli bacteria.  Annys Shin and Ylan Q. Mui write,

Whole_foods_marketWhole Foods Market pulled fresh ground beef from all of its stores Friday, becoming the latest retailer affected by an E. coli outbreak traced to Nebraska Beef, one of the nation's largest meatpackers. It's the second outbreak linked to the processor in as many months.

The meat Whole Foods recalled came from Coleman Natural Foods, which unbeknownst to Whole Foods had processed it at Nebraska Beef, an Omaha meatpacker with a history of food-safety and other violations. Nebraska Beef last month recalled more than 5 million pounds of beef produced in May and June after its meat was blamed for another E. coli outbreak in seven states. On Friday it recalled an additional 1.2 million pounds of beef produced on June 17, June 24 and July 8, which included products eventually sold to Whole Foods. The recall is not related to the recent spate of E. coli illnesses among Boy Scouts at a gathering in Goshen, Va.

Whole Foods officials are investigating why they were not aware that Coleman was using Nebraska Beef as a processor, spokeswoman Libba Letton said.

The chain's managers took action after Massachusetts health officials informed them Aug. 1 that seven people who had gotten sick from E. coli O157:H7 had all bought ground beef from Whole Foods. The same strain has sickened 31 people in 12 states, the District and Canada.

So far, tests have not found contaminated Whole Foods beef, Letton said.

That was small comfort yesterday to some shoppers at the Whole Foods on P Street NW.

"I shop here because the standards are higher, so yes, this really concerns me," said Harry Harrison, 43, a District resident who shops almost exclusively at Whole Foods and buys beef at the store about once a week.

This latest outbreak was first identified in late July among customers of Dorothy Lane Market, a small Ohio grocery chain. Dorothy Lane also bought meat from Coleman Natural Foods, which bought primal cuts -- meat intended for steaks and roasts -- from Nebraska Beef. The E. coli strain found in the Massachusetts Whole Foods customers matches that Ohio strain.

Nebraska Beef, which continues to operate, had already been under close scrutiny by the U.S. Department of Agriculture since late June.

William M. Lamson Jr., a Nebraska Beef spokesman, said the company and the USDA had increased testing of its meat since then. It has found no E. coli O157:H7 in products made since July 8.

He said that since June, Nebraska Beef has hired food safety consultants and undertaken an in-depth review of its processes. USDA is doing the same.

"We will continue to investigate to see what is happening at the plant to see what they have to do to get a handle on their food-safety issues," said agency spokeswoman Laura Reiser.

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