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How Does Salmonella Beef Contamination Happen?

Posted in Food Safety,Our Blog,Outbreaks & Recalls,Salmonella on November 29, 2018

Month have passed since since the initial reports on Cargill Meat resulted in a recall of 132,000 pounds of deadly ground beef thoroughly contaminated with E. coli bacteria, but while we might have hoped to be safe from similar food poisoning threats, another massive recall has occurred. Another United States meat processor, JBS, announced a recall that leaves Cargill’s in the dust, raising questions about food safety standards as well as how animals are raised and farmed! In the beginning, JBS recalled nearly 7,000,000 pounds of beef due to a concern that it has been contaminated with salmonella bacteria. At this point, a total of 57 individuals have been confirmed with the same illness, patients spread across 16 states. Each case has been directly traced back to the same processing facility: JBS in Tolleson, Arizona. This not only brings JBS’s reputation into question, but also adds to the food safety concern. How does this kind of thing happen? How does Salmonella Beef Contamination happen?

The Tale of Woe of Salmonella and Beef

In today’s day and age, we have advanced food safety standards, laws, and regulations in place to help prevent outbreaks like these. There are health codes to abide by and authorities to answer to when mistakes are made, so how does 7 million pounds of ground beef become contaminated with E. coliand then slip by all of the regulation, completely undetected? Why does someone need to get sick before we find these contaminated foods?

Joe Fassler, a writer for The New Food Economy, attempts to investigate this issue and provide understandable answers. Fassler says, “While we may never know the exact details of this outbreak, we can look to previous recalls for clues—and established facts point to a massive, ongoing food safety crisis hidden in plain sight.” According to Fassler, the particular strain of salmonella discovered in the JBS outbreak is known as Salmonella Newport and is commonly linked to dairy cows. When dairy cattle become infected with this bacteria, their milk production has a tendency to drop to a point where they are useless to milk, after which they are sent to the slaughter if a treatment isn’t deemed worthwhile.

You see, thanks to the process of pasteurizing milk and milk products, salmonella is not usually a huge issue in dairy farming–unless a sick cow is slaughtered and then sold for consumption. This is when it becomes a huge problem. Because the meat isn’t pasteurized, the salmonella bacteria infecting the cow is able to infect whatever person ingests the meat. As Fassler says, “Plenty of Americans like their burgers medium-rare,” which–when made with contaminated meat–leads to a foodborne illness. Thankfully, dairy cows are rarely raised for their meat and instead are kept for their milk–but this unfortunately means that when they are slaughtered and sold, they are ground up and used as filler meat rather than a prime cut. Since it’s the surface of meat that holds onto bacteria, ground mean from dairy cows greatly increases the chances of contamination throughout the entire product.

To help clarify exactly how easily this can become a huge issue, Fassler recalls a 2012 study from the journal Foodborne Pathogens and Disease, saying,

Lean beef trimmings from cull cows are often blended with high-fat content beef trimmings harvested from animals finished in feedlots to facilitate a consistent supply of ground beef that meets certain purchase specifications. As a consequence, beef from culled dairy cows may be broadly incorporated into ground beef products across the United States.

Despite the fact that there are tons of laws and regulations on food safety, meatpackers somehow don’t have to test their products for salmonella since the United States Department of Agriculture doesn’t consider it an “adulterant.” The reason for this shocking reality is that salmonella can technically be eliminated via high temperatures (proper cooking) and is therefore not considered to be “injurious to health,” per the Federal Meat Inspection act. This means that a meat company is not required to recall contaminated meats and the federal government is unable to stop contaminated meat from being sold to the public for consumption. This means that JBS’s recall was wholly voluntary and in no way a requirement by law.

While this might sound like a confusing system, it becomes even more boggling when you realize that it’s setting the public up to most likely be eating the sickest of animals. But this predicament could be entirely alieveated, since a large reason why these animals become sick is the conditions in which they are kept. According to a CDC veterinarian,

One of the things that might really predispose [dairy cows] to infections are some of the environmental factors and just being mixed with hundreds of other cows. I think anytime you bring a large group together, whether it’s a group of people or a herd of cattle, you’re potentially introducing new diseases.

There are real dangers to industrial agriculture. Disease pandemics brew easily within their walls, and animal cruelty is much harder to eliminate. However, the huge consumer demand that’s driving these meat processors is keeping any of these situations from improving! Consumers want meat and they want it as cheaply as they can get it, which means that meat processors cut corners in terms of cleanliness and animal health. What we don’t realize is in order to get this meat so cheap, we’re accepting old, sickly animals.

While this might sound like an insurmountable wrong to correct, you can make a difference! Instead of purchasing only the cheapest products at your local supermarket, visit some local farmers markets. Get to know real farmers and learn how they raise their animals. Support techniques you approve of and give money to the “little man” in order to help prevent contaminated farm environments from infecting millions of pounds of beef. It might be a little bit of an investment, but at least your risks of contracting a foodborne illness are lessened.

Our Salmonella Lawyer is Here to Help You

If you believe you have developed a Salmonella infection from eating beef products, we want you to know that a Salmonella Lawyer at the Lange Law Firm, PLLC is currently investigating this matter and offering free legal consultations. Our lawyer, Jory Lange became a lawyer to help make our communities and families safer.

If you or a loved one have become ill with Salmonella, you can call (833) 330-3663 for a free legal consultation or complete the form here.

By: Abbey Ryan Elder, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)