November 01, 2009

New York Firm Recalls Over 545,000 Pounds Of Ground Beef Products That May Be Contaminated By E. Coli - Gillibrand Renews Call For Federally Mandated Testing Of All Ground Beef

An Estimated 2.1 Million New York City Residents Afflicted by Food Borne Illnesses Annually

New York, NY - U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand renewed her call today for federally mandated E. coli inspections of all ground beef  after Fairbank Farms, a New York manufacturer of ground beef, issued a voluntary recall yesterday for a specified line of fresh ground beef products sold in eight states, including New York. According to the company, approximately 545,699 pounds of fresh ground beef product produced between September 14 through September 16, 2009, may be linked to E. coli O157:H7. This year, the number of recalls nationally of ground beef and other beef products contaminated with E. coli is in the double digits and 58 New York City residents were afflicted with E. coli last year alone.

"This is a stark reminder that food is still going straight to our kitchens, and grocery stores without being properly tested to ensure its safety," Senator Gillibrand said. "It's spreading too many diseases and costing too many lives. We need to do a better job of catching contaminated food before it ever comes close to a kitchen table or a school lunch counter. It's time to address the gaps in the inspection process and improve recalls and public education, so parents have the information to keep their families safe. I want to commend Fairbank Farms for showing leadership in instituting this voluntary recall."

Two weeks ago, the Senator was joined by consumers who have contracted E. coli from contaminated food, plus medical and food safety experts to announce new legislation to reduce the risk of E. coli ending up in the hamburgers and other food we eat - the E. coli Eradication Act.

The new legislation authored by Gillibrand would for the first time mandate E. coli inspections of all ground beef.  The measure would require all plants that produce the cuts and trimmings that make ground beef to test their products regularly before it is ground and again after all the components are ground together. If ground beef is found to be contaminated, the bill requires the company to properly dispose of the contaminated batch, or cook the meat to a temperature that destroys the E. coli.

During a 2008 industry-wide sampling of all ground beef produced, the USDA found that 0.32% of ground beef was contaminated with E. coli - nearly 1 in every 300 samples.  Ground beef is especially vulnerable to E.coli because its source material is not from a single cut of meat, rather, it is a compilation of trimmings from many parts, including fat that lies near the surface of possibly contaminated hide. While some grinders that process ground beef voluntarily test the meat before and after grinding, there is currently no federal requirement for grinders to test their ingredients for E. coli.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), every year an estimated 87 million Americans are sickened by contaminated food, 371,000 are hospitalized with food-borne illness, and 5,700 die from food-related disease. In New York City, approximately 2.1 million people are afflicted with a food-borne illness each year.

Salmonella is the most common food-borne illness - causing over 1 million illnesses each year in the U.S., according to the CDC. Another 70,000 in America fall victim to E. coli each year. From meat and poultry to peanut butter, fruits and vegetables, almost every type of food we eat each day has the potential for contamination because of outdated, insufficient safeguards and testing processes.

As part of Gillibrand's comprehensive food safety plan, the Senator also announced a commitment to improving public education in the event of food outbreaks.

To make sure information about food-borne illnesses and recalls is distributed accurately and efficiently, Senator Gillibrand is authoring the Consumer Recall Notification Act ­- legislation that would direct the Secretaries of the Department of Health and Human Services and the USDA, as well as the Commissioner of the FDA to improve communication among states, state and local health departments, food distributors and vendors to provide consumers with faster and more complete information.

Specifically, the legislation would:

  • Provide information to health professionals to improve diagnosis and treatment of food-related illness;
  • Develop a procedure to distribute regional and national advisories concerning food safety;
  • Allow the FDA to share trade secrets, and commercial or financial information, and its list of registered facilities with other federal, state, local and foreign agencies - provided those agencies can assure confidentially of the information;
  • Allow the FDA to share confidential information with the public when necessary to protect public health;
  • Develop standardized formats for written and broadcast advisories;
  • Mandate on-site notification of a recalled product by posting notification in the freezer case or shelving unit where the product is, or has been sold.