You may have heard about the FSIS announcement this week that the Wolverine Packing Company in Detroit, MI was recalling 1.8 million pounds of ground beef products that may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7. This recall is linked to 11 patients in four states. I wanted to provide an update on what FSIS is doing based on the evidence available.
FSIS was notified of the first illness on May 8 and immediately began working with our partners at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to find the source of these illnesses. Based on the initial findings in the investigations, FSIS and CDC were able to establish a direct link to ground beef products supplied by Wolverine Packing Company.
As these investigations are initiated, it would be natural for one to assume that the scope of a recall would be limited to the amount of contaminated products that were produced within a specific time frame, or a production lot, to use an industry term. However, it is not uncommon during the course of an investigation to identify additional products that should be included in a recall.
In general, there are several reasons why the amount of product would increase as the agency considers whether to conduct a recall and, if so, what product is involved:
- A company cleans its processing equipment at the end of the day, instead of between production lots. If this is the case, there is no basis to distinguish between production lots, and a day’s worth of production effectively becomes one lot. In this situation, FSIS would assume that the entire day’s production was contaminated and subject to a recall.
- Some plants use multiple lines that converge into common mixers. If contaminated product is being produced by one line, the product from the other lines would become contaminated once it enters the common mixer.
- Detailed distribution records allow FSIS to narrow the scope of a recall. In the absence of such records, FSIS must take into account the possibility that contaminated product was comingled with other products. Therefore, FSIS would include all the products in question in the scope of a recall to protect public health.
The illnesses associated with this particular recall involve a very rare strain of E. coli O157:H7, so if there are additional illnesses, it may be easier for FSIS to establish a direct link to product from this facility; it also will be possible that any additional illnesses will be linked to product that is already subject to the recall. If any additional illnesses are linked to different production dates that are not covered in the initial recall, then the recall would be expanded.
So far, we have no evidence to suggest that the recall should be expanded, but the investigation is still very active. We continue to look for additional sources either from Wolverine or a common supplier and will certainly pursue those leads if the investigation uncovers them. If warranted, the new information also may result in an expanded recall.
For consumers, we advise all consumers to safely prepare raw ground beef products by cooking them to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. When dining out, this is equivalent to ordering your burger well done. At the grocery store, check ground beef product labels that bear the establishment number “EST. 2574B” with a production date code in the format “Packing Nos: MM DD 14” between “03 31 14” and “04 18 14.”
Industry’s responsibility during any recall follows a consistent pattern. In this situation, Wolverine is responsible for notifying the distributors who received its product to return the product to Wolverine. In turn, the distributor is responsible for alerting any retail outlets or restaurants to which it delivered the recalled product. Retailers and restaurants are expected to pull the product from their shelves or storage area and return it to Wolverine.
As the FSIS press release indicated, the recalled products were shipped to distributors for restaurant use in Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, and Ohio. If you are a restaurant owner in these states, and are wondering if you have received this recalled product, you should receive notification from your distributor that they were supplied recalled products from Wolverine that was sent to you. Or, you can check product labels that bear the establishment number “EST. 2574B” with a production date code in the format “Packing Nos: MM DD 14” between “03 31 14” and “04 18 14.”
As always, if you have additional questions, do not hesitate to “Ask Karen,” the FSIS virtual representative available that is available 24 hours a day at AskKaren.gov or via smartphone at m.askkaren.gov. Or you can call the toll-free USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854), which is available in English and Spanish and can be reached from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Eastern Time) Monday through Friday. You also can access our online Electronic Consumer Complaint Monitoring System can be accessed 24 hours a day at: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/reportproblem.