If you live in California, Oregon, Arizona, or Texas, and have ground beef in your freezer, you might want to give it a look to make sure that it's safe to eat.
A Modesto-based beef company has recalled one million pounds of its ground beef product after seven people have fallen ill with a rare strain of the E. coli bacterium.
At NPR's website, Scott Hensley calculated that the recall of so much beef amounted to over 2,300 cows.
The recall was voluntarily initiated by the Valley Meat Company after California Department of Health officials notified the USDA of the E. coli cases, which occurred in mid-July.
In rare cases, E. coli can be deadly. Typical symptoms include bloody diarrhea, abdominal pain, and in rare cases, severe anemia or deadly kidney failure.
The fifty-year-old, family-owned and operated Modesto company said in a recent statement:
"This is the first recall in our history and we will investigate the matter thoroughly and take any measures deemed necessary to further elevate our safety standards, protect consumers, and ensure confidence in our products."
At the Los Angeles Times, P.J. Huffstutter points to calls for more Federal regulation and oversight to prevent illnesses in the future:
"...at least in the eyes of some food safety advocates, this most recent recall is one more reason that the federal government needs to roll out more comprehensive – and digitized -- traceability programs."
But in the next paragraph Huffstutter also quotes Donna Rosenbaum, executive director of Safe Tables Our Priority, a private, non-profit organization, in an apparent criticism of the regulatory regime:
"It’s concerning that the USDA was alerted to this problem in July and it took three weeks for the recall information to get out to the public."
And not only did it take three weeks for Federal regulators to get the information to consumers, but Valley Meat Company says that it maintains daily, on-site inspections by the USDA.
The vast Federal regulatory regime didn't prevent the meat from becoming infected in the first place, and then took its time in notifying the public. Will more regulation really solve the problem?
As consumers grapple with this question, they should also be concerned about staying healthy and eating safe food. While retailers remove the recalled beef from their shelves, it's important to note that some of the recalled beef could be in your freezer.
The recall applies to beef products that were produced between October 2, 2009 and January 12, 2010. Valley Meat writes on their website:
All products subject to the recall bear the establishment number “EST. 8268” inside the USDA mark of inspection as well as a five-digit code that signifies the date they were produced. The affected 2009 products will carry a number between 275 and 365 before the “09” ending. The affected 2010 products will carry a number between 001 and 012 before the “10” ending.
Valley Meat encourages consumers to wash their hands with warm, soapy water before and after handling raw meat, and thoroughly clean all food preparation utensils and surfaces that make contact with raw meat.
The USDA FSIS advises consumers to only consume ground beef that has been prepared at a temperature of 160° F, emphasizing that the only way to be sure, is by using a food thermometer that measures internal temperature.