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Bad recordkeeping (i.e. no grind logs) prevents USDA from identifying source of Hannaford’s Salmonella outbreak

Hannaford’s ground beef sickened at least 19 people in 7 states with an antibiotic resistant strain of Salmonella Typhimurium.  As has long been known, the investigation into the outbreak by USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service was complicated by the store’s sloppy recordkeeping.  In fact, Hannafords stores did not track at all where the component parts of their ground beef were coming from, including the “trim,” which are parts of other cuts of meat trimmed off during processing.  As a result, neither Hannafords, nor the USDA, nor the people who got sick in this outbreak will ever know the identity of the beef company that sold Hannafords the Salmonella-contaminated beef.

Leslie Bridgers at the Portland Press Herald wrote today:

Officials from the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service said Friday that they plan to close the investigation within a week.

The officials said Hannaford’s “high-risk practices” for grinding beef were the barrier in their investigation, although those practices did not break any regulatory requirements and are probably used by other meat retailers.

And then there is the other reason that this outbreak is Hannaford’s outbreak and nobody else’s:

Daniel Engeljohn, assistant administrator of the Food Safety and Inspection Service, said it was not always clear from Hannaford’s records when the stores were grinding the trimmings. Investigators found that Hannaford would grind trimmings and tube meat without cleaning the equipment in between, he said, raising the possibility of cross-contamination.

Engeljohn noted that there is a lower sanitary standard for the cuts of meat that are used for trimmings than there is for the ground beef that comes in tubes.

There is no requirement that equipment be cleaned between grinds of meat from different companies, Engeljohn said, but the USDA has told retailers for several years that it recommends it, along with more complete information in grinding logs.

A little self-policing would go a long way for Hannafords in the future.