Sunday, October 04, 2009

Very Disturbing Story on Ground Beef Inspections

"Ground beef is usually not simply a chunk of meat run through a grinder. Instead, records and interviews show, a single portion of hamburger meat is often an amalgam of various grades of meat from different parts of cows and even from different slaughterhouses. These cuts of meat are particularly vulnerable to E. coli contamination, food experts and officials say. Despite this, there is no federal requirement for grinders to test their ingredients for the pathogen." from The New York Times

You know what that means. Short cuts. Shoddy, if any inspections at all. Like any business, meat packers and grinders are, after all, concerned about the bottom line. Consumer safety is secondary. If a little exposure to a potent strand of E.Coli leaves you paralyzed from the waist down, oh well:

"Unwritten agreements between some companies appear to stand in the way of ingredient testing. Many big slaughterhouses will sell only to grinders who agree not to test their shipments for E. coli, according to officials at two large grinding companies. Slaughterhouses fear that one grinder’s discovery of E. coli will set off a recall of ingredients they sold to others."

We can't have a recall now could we? God forbid they waste their time, money and yes, processed junk in order to save lives.


"Those low-grade ingredients are cut from areas of the cow that are more likely to have had contact with feces, which carries E. coli, industry research shows. Yet Cargill, like most meat companies, relies on its suppliers to check for the bacteria and does its own testing only after the ingredients are ground together."

Could you imagine the rationalization taking place? The suppliers think they can employ shortcuts because, well, the buyer will test their meat quality and the buyer thinks it could take short cuts because they think their supplier won't sell them a defective product. Supplier and buyer alike thinks they can trim costs by relying on the other party in the exchange to do the testing.

And yet in spite of this, the reporters tell us that our government, in the form of the USDA, has been fairly lax in providing us, through the issuance of mandates (government regulations) protection from E. Coli.

"The United States Department of Agriculture, which allows grinders to devise their own safety plans, has encouraged them to test ingredients first as a way of increasing the chance of finding contamination."

The USDA "encouraged them to test." How encouraging. And here's more:

"While the Department of Agriculture has inspectors posted in plants and has access to production records, it also guards those secrets. Federal records released by the department through the Freedom of Information Act blacked out details of Cargill’s grinding operation that could be learned only through copies of the documents obtained from other sources."

Not the USDA, which merely "encouraged" Cargill, and its competitors no doubt too, to do the right thing. Cargill, not surprisingly, had its own set of priorities starting with the bottom line. Note these examples from the news story that follow.

1. Cargill inspected its meat for materials that could break its grinders but it did not, at that point, when it is easier to spot E. Coli, to do so:

"As it fed ingredients into its grinders, Cargill watched for some unwanted elements. Using metal detectors, workers snagged stray nails and metal hooks that could damage the grinders, then warned suppliers to make sure it did not happen again.

But when it came to E. coli O157:H7, Cargill did not screen the ingredients and only tested once the grinding was done."


2. Cargill, like its competitors, opted for a process that exposes us to more E.Coli. That process involves the use of meat from a variety of sources as opposed to a whole cut of meat, including areas of a cow frequently exposed to the feces that carries E. Coli. Why? because,according to The New York Times, it cuts their costs by 25%.

3. Cargill's investigation into the source of this E.Coli outbreak only after it was hit buy multimillion dollar lawsuits from those who got sick. At that point, it behooved them to see if they can shift the blame, at least in part if not whole, on its suppliers.

Cargill, it should be noted, is not the only villain in this story. Note to its suppliers. Note the standard best-practices of Greater Omaha, which sprays the carcasses with lactic acid and hot water but

(a) fails to trimmings piece-by-piece as they get put into combs or boxes

and

(b) kept the pace of churning out its food at its "torrid" pace even when the trimmers who were ultimately responsible for removing any remaining feces from the carcasses were reassigned (and consequently short-staffed).

Several workers, by the way, say they aren't paid for the time they are required to clean the contaminants off their knives and gear. Again, all for the bottom line.

Note too, the allegation Costco (the one honorable mention in the story) levels at Tyson Foods. Tyson Foods, a Costco spokesman claims, won't sell their product to Costco since it doesn't want its product tested before grinding.

Remember this anytime you here any pundit or corporate spokesperson rail about government regulation, big government, socialism or red tape. Know that their concern doesn't lie with the consumer who ultimately will use their product, or the worker that makes them. Know that, pure and simply, they are concerned about the bottom line and that they are willing to make profoundly immoral decisions to protect that bottom line.

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