Valley Meat Co., a meat packer with a 156,000-square-foot plant in Modesto, Calif., is recalling 1 million pounds of retail hamburger patties and bulk ground beef products after some of its products were linked to an outbreak of illnesses. The firm, which describes itself as "mid-sized" supplies beef, pork and poultry to retail, food service and military customers. The recalled beef was labeled under the Valley Meat Co. brand as well as several other brands, including Bigger Valley, Hearst, Safeway, Smashburger and Supremas (see list below).
E. coli O157:H7 is the culprit, as is often the case. A cluster of seven illnesses in California have been linked to the outbreak, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture is concerned that customers may still have the tainted beef in freezers.
Contamination is a huge problem in the beef industry, in part because beef "trimmings" the fat and gristle sliced off choice cuts is sourced from various slaughterhouses and combined with better cuts to produce the familiar mixes (80% lean, 90% lean, etc.) consumers encounter in grocery stores; the 20% that isn't lean comes from trimmings from various plants, each prone to contamination as cows are slaughtered, frankly, in close proximity to their own waste. E. coli bacteria is found in beef cattle only because they are fed corn; they evolved to eat grass, and grass-fed cows rarely produce E. coli-tainted beef. (More disgusting facts about ground beef.)
What can you do? While grass-fed beef isn't a cure-all for bacterial contamination, beef fed a natural diet are much less likely to have high E. coli counts in their stomachs. And buying local may not be the answer in all cases, it at least gives consumers the opportunity to ask how cattle were raised and critically how they were slaughtered. Of course, there are always delicious vegetarian recipes to try, too.
Here are the details on the latest recall:
All recalled beef products have the establishment number "EST. 8268" inside the USDA mark of inspection as well as a production code of 25709 through 01210. These products were produced from Oct. 2, 2009 to Jan. 12, 2010 and were distributed to retail outlets and institutional foodservice providers in California, Texas, Oregon, Arizona and internationally. The specific recalled products include:
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