The nation's largest beef recall to date continues to cause repercussions for the food industry, weeks after 143 million pounds of beef was recalled by the Hallmark/Westland Meat Company, Chino, Calif. on Feb. 17. According to federal officials, more than a third of the recalled meat went to federal nutrition programs, and about 35 million pounds of that have been accounted for. But the question now is: Where's the rest of the beef?
The USDA says that products containing any amount of the recalled beef should not be consumed, but the agency also told food industry representatives that manufacturers of products in which the beef was commingled with other beef would not have to notify their customers to return or destroy products, according to USA Today, quoting William Marler, a plaintiff's attorney who specializes in food-safety cases.
The USDA says that the recalled beef poses minimal health risks. None of the meat has been found to be contaminated and no cases of illness have been associated with the recalled products.
On March 6, lawmakers on the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Agriculture Subcommittee demanded that the Agriculture Department disclose which retailers sold meat that had been recalled. Richard Raymond, the department's undersecretary for food safety, said that the information is proprietary and can't be made public. Raymond said that some 10,000 establishments had received the potentially tainted meat, but that he couldn't reveal which ones. According to Raymond, the Agriculture Department's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) had proposed a rule change two years ago that would allow such disclosure, but the rule is in review and hasn't been finalized yet.
Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y. complained, 'This is not proprietary information. This is information that is directly engaged in the health and safety of the American people, which we have a responsibility, along with you, to protect.' Hinchey demanded a list of the retailers by the second week in March. Raymond replied that he would consult with Agriculture Department attorneys on whether he should comply.
On its web site, California's Department of Public Health has posted a list of hundreds of retailers and restaurants that received the recalled meat, and another list of retail products containing the recalled meat. A state law passed in 2006 requires distributors of recalled meat to notify state officials where those products went, but there is currently no such law at the federal level.
Meanwhile, several national food manufacturers have been quietly notifying retailers that some meat from the Hallmark/Westland recall was used in their products and advised them to pull the products from their shelves, but they have not officially notified consumers, claiming they are not required to do so.
The H.J. Heinz Co., Pittsburgh, recalled 40,000 cases of its frozen Boston Market Lasagna with Meat Sauce in 12.5 oz. cartons, saying that a vendor used a small portion of ground beef from Westland/Hallmark. No other Boston Market frozen products or Heinz consumer products are affected, according to the company.