Raw Hamburger As we reported several weeks ago, there has been a media fueled public outcry against the inclusion of Pink Slime, which is otherwise known as, “lean finely textured beef,” or “LFTB,” in ground beef.  LFTB is comprised of the beef scraps which remain after the valuable cuts of meat are sold.  These pieces of meat are separated from fat through the use of a centrifuge, and treated with ammonium hydroxide to kill harmful bacteria. The result is a safe, edible, high quality beef product containing the same nutritional value as other ground beef.   In fact, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) continues to proclaim that both LFTB and the use of ammonium hydroxide to eliminate bacteria in meat are safe.

Despite the USDA’s continued support for LFTB, the social media led firestorm directed against LFTB has caused a significant backlash against the product.  For example, all but three states which participate in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), which is administered by the USDA to provide low income school children with a free or reduced cost  lunch, now refuse to purchase ground beef which contains LFTB, despite the fact that it costs three percent less than the alternative. In addition, many restaurants, including McDonalds, and supermarket chains have followed suit and ceased the sale of ground beef which contains LFTB. As a result, many large beef producers have suffered large declines in revenue.  In fact, Beef Products, Inc. (“BPI”), the largest LFTB manufacturer, was forced to close three of its plants and lay off 650 employees.

In an effort to resuscitate their flagging businesses, many beef producers recently submitted requests to the USDA to add labels indicating the inclusion of LFTB. In response, the USDA instituted a voluntary labeling initiative, which many beef manufacturers have already put into practice.   In a further effort to increase transparency and dispute misinformation, BPI has also set up a website, www.beefisbeef.com, which provides valuable factual information about LFTB and the way it is produced.

The impact which the “Pink Slime” phenomenon has had upon the beef industry and the speed with which it developed are staggering.  The sale and consumption of LFTB had been widespread for more than thirty years, with USDA approval. Nevertheless, in a span of a few months, one of the country’s largest industries was derailed through the lightning fast spread of misinformation and misperception.   Perhaps, the lesson to be learned by the food industry is that transparency is the only way to prevent attacks such as those waged against LFTB.
Continue Reading UPDATE: The Pink Slime Backlash

Raw HamburgerOn May 2, 2012, the United States Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) announced a series of prevention-based policy measures that it believes will better protect consumers from foodborne illness in meat and poultry products.

The USDA states that the purpose of these new regulations is to better allow both manufacturers and the USDA to:

(1)  trace contaminated food materials in the supply chain;

(2)  react more quickly to contamination; and

(3)  establish effective food safety systems.

The first measure will allow the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (“FSIS”)  to speed up the process for tracking E. coli O157:H7 in the nation’s food supply.  Currently, after an initial report of E. coli, USDA officials are required to wait for additional confirmation before they can begin an investigation.  These new measures will now allow FSIS to  initiate its investigation after the first indication of a positive test and move quickly to identify the source of the contaminated product and any processors who may have received contaminated product.  Once the source is properly identified, FSIS can issue instructions for minimizing consumer cases of foodborne illness accordingly.

The second key measure announced by the USDA is the implementation of three provisions included in the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008.  These provisions will now require food establishments to:

(1)  prepare and maintain recall procedures on site;

(2)  notify FSIS within 24 hours that a meat or poultry product which could harm consumers has been shipped into commerce; and

(3)  document each reassessment of their hazard control and critical control point (HACCP) system food safety plans.

In addition,  USDA will make publicly available guidance to plants on the steps that are necessary to establish that their HACCP food safety systems will work as designed to control the food safety hazards that they confront. This process, called “validation,” enables companies to ensure that their food safety systems are effective for preventing food borne illness.  The guidelines will be available on the USDA website.

Proactive compliance with food safety standards, such as these recent measures enacted by USDA is of paramount importance to any company in the food industry. We advise our clients that such a proactive approach is essential to minimize risk, protect  the company’s brand name, and most importantly, to protect the customer. As such, all food manufacturers, suppliers and processors should, as soon as possible, ensure that their plants are in compliance with the new USDA measures, particularly with respect to reporting potential contamination and documenting any changes to a HACCP plan.  Furthermore, companies should preemptively review the HAACP plan guidelines released by USDA to confirm that their food safety systems are adequate and in compliance with federal laws.  The USDA expects the new regulations to go into effect in July, which just happens to coincide with the peak grilling season in the United States.
Continue Reading USDA Tightens Oversight and Announces New Foodborne Illness Measures

Co-authored by Brian Gross 

Foodborne IllnessThe USDA has recently announced that it will delay implementation of a controversial new program to extend its Zero Tolerance Policy for E. coli 0157:H7 to include six additional E. coli serogroups:  O26; O45; O103; O111; O121; and O145, which the USDA declared adulterants in non-intact raw beef.  The new policy, which was to take effect on March 5, would require routine testing of raw beef for these six additional serogroups, and would prohibit any beef found to carry one of these pathogens from entering the food chain.

Although more than 700 serotypes of E. coli have been identified, very of few of those are foodborne pathogens.  In fact, only Shiga Toxin producing E. coli (STEC) serotypes are considered foodborne pathogens.  While there are but a few E. coli serotypes which are considered to be foodborne pathogens, theSTECserotypes are extremely virulent and require very little human exposure to cause infection.  The CDC estimates that there are approximately 265,000STECrelated illnesses each year, 64% of which are attributable to non-0157:H7 E. coli.

Compare that figure to the numbers 700 and 4, which is the reported amount of E. coli 0157:H7 related illnesses and deaths stemming from an outbreak traced to undercooked and contaminated meat served at a Jack in the Box on the west coast in 1993 and an expanded scope under the USDA’s policy make perfect sense.

The question remains however; despite heightened scrutiny, better processes and scientific advances why are we continuing to see a persistent increase in reported outbreaks and recalls related to E. coli? It seems counterintuitive. Dr. Marc Siegel, a senior contributor to the Fox News Channel’s Medical A Team offers up some valuable insights.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T2Eqw_hZCi0

I couldn’t agree more with Dr. Siegel. Fear is one of the largest pathogens and unfortunately many attorneys are capitalizing on this symptom. Not only are we seeing a staggering increase in the number of reported E. coli illnesses, so too are the number of foodborne illness claims filed each year.

The result is that many good companies are now expending more resources then ever to defend foodborne illness claims, while at the same time working tirelessly to comply with a well intentioned, yet constantly evolving governmental mandate. As National Council for the one of the largest food service providers in the world, we’ve seen first hand how proactive compliance and best practices can have a significant impact in minimizing risk and exposure. Companies who truly care about their products embrace food safety because they understand that there is more at stake than the bottom line. Closely monitoring suppliers, using scalable HACCP Plans and implementing aggressive standards for quality control not only protect a company’s brand, but its customers. This makes it easier to withstand attacks from plaintiffs counsel so you can continue to put food on everyone’s table, including your shareholders.
Continue Reading Can The Food Service Industry Navigate The USDA’s Zero Tolerance Policy on E.coli and Still Put Food On The Table?