Friday, September 3, 2010

Increased Beef Oversight: Needed? or Overkill?

When I strolled into the meat shop last Saturday morning, my E-mail inbox had a surprise waiting for me!  I received notification about yet another meat recall.  But this wasn’t just any old meat recall.  My eyes did a little double take. The recall was for a strain of E. coli known as O26. So, what’s the big deal you say?

Without getting too sciency and geeky, here’s the gist of it… Generally, beef recalls are due to the well publicized virulent (bad … yes, there are “good” ones, too) strain of E. coli known as O157:H7.  For my small business, containing this ubiquitous threat can literally mean the difference of being in business or vaporizing our life’s work.  Yep, it’s the kind of stuff that keeps a gal up at night.  The O157:H7 strain of E. coli is an official adulterant under USDA regulations.  So now, what does that mean?

Well, it basically boils down to the fact that E. coli O157:H7 is highly regulated and strictly enforced with a zero tolerance policy.  This in itself is enough to drive a small (even large!) USDA inspected beef slaughter and fabrication plant mad.  Why?  Folks, there is no sterile raw meat product.  YES, you heard it here.  Not even a small slaughter plant can create a sterile raw meat product.  Try as we may, there are no guarantees.  I know, I know…you heard that grass fed beef or small family farms can’t have E. coli, Salmonella, or whatever bug.  You read somewhere that small slaughterhouses somehow create a magical, mystical safe meat.