The Agriculture Department stands by its decision not to alert the public about suspect ground beef after a 2004 salmonella outbreak that sickened at least 31 people nationwide.

A report by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that was made public Wednesday by food safety advocates said the meat was traced to a single meat processing plant.

Agriculture Department spokesman Steven Cohen said Wednesday that officials did a full investigation and were prepared to act on any problems at the plant. "We didn’t find problems," Cohen said.

The CDC report, which did not identify the plant or supermarket chain involved, said the Agriculture Department traced illnesses in nine states — Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Tennessee and Wisconsin — and Washington, D.C.

The department concluded the plant was following federal guidelines.

That’s not much comfort for people who got sick, said Carol Tucker Foreman, director of food policy for Consumer Federation of America. "Nobody died, but 31 people … got sick from eating this product, and I can tell you, not one of them thought that it was their best day on earth," Foreman said. "This is not just a bellyache."