The government declined to alert the public about suspect ground beef or request a recall after a 2004 salmonella outbreak that sickened at least 31 people nationwide, according to a report by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The department decided no action was needed because the plant was following federal guidelines. The CDC did not name the plant or supermarket chain.

The report, made public Wednesday by food safety advocates, said the Agriculture Department traced illnesses in nine states – Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Tennessee, Wisconsin and Washington, D.C., to a national supermarket chain and a single meat processing plant.

Carol Tucker Foreman, director of food policy for Consumer Federation of America, and other food safety advocates called attention to the report on the outbreak that was issued by CDC late last month. They said the department could have taken steps to prevent more people from getting sick but chose not to.

"They never announced this outbreak," said Donna Rosenbaum of Safe Tables Our Priority. "I would guess there are a number of cases of this that could have been avoided. It ran from August to October, so this was in people’s refrigerators and in their freezers."