Where's the beef?
Since we got so many comments about the meat entry last week, I figured I'd take the opportunity to answer a question that I've been asked a lot lately.
The question is: how can I tell if I bought meat that was part of the Feb. 17 Hallmark/Westland Meat Co. recall?
The reason this is still being asked is because the initial recall notice didn't list the retail stores that may have sold the recalled meat or products that contain it. Instead, the recall notice lists things such as "Various weight boxes of Westland Meat Co., Ground Pork For Further Processing Not to Exceed 30 % Fat" -- the kind of label you don't see at the meat counter.
According to Wayne Pacelle, chief executive of the Humane Society of the U.S., which sparked the recall with its video of inhumane treatment of cows at the Hallmark plant, that slaughterhouse specialized in handling so-called "spent" dairy cows that can't produce milk any more. Meat from such cows isn't considered good enough for steaks and usually winds up in cooked products such as premade burritos or, you know, your kid's school lunch. (And to think Sloppy Joe day was my favorite.)
The long food chain also means the folks who make the burritos or Sloppy Joe mix are just finding out themselves, as each customer down the chain notifies his customers and so on. But the news is still not likely to reach us because, according to USDA spokeswoman Amanda Eamich, a meat processor's customer list is considered proprietary and not releasable for, uh, public consumption.
USDA officials realize this is problematic for consumers and a few years back began work on a regulation to change that. The public comment period is over, but so far, there's been no sign of the new regulation.
Last week, Consumers Union asked USDA to release the names of the retail stores that sold products containing the recalled meat.
So far, however, there's no list.
I've asked the American Meat Institute, which represents the beef industry, to chime in as well on the issue of disclosing customer lists and I'll post their thoughts as soon as I get them.
I would point out that this knowledge gap in meat recalls can happen in reverse too. When there's a recall prompted by, say, an outbreak at a hamburger joint, the meat is typically traced back as far as the processor. There are processors who aren't happy about this, since they blame the slaughterhouses for sending them contaminated meat to begin with.
I've prattled on long enough. It's your turn. Do you think USDA should release the names of the retailers who sold products containing recalled meat? Have any of you asked your grocery store manager if your store bought any of the meat? And if so, what were you told?
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