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Feds: Beef recall caused by testing mistake

WASHINGTON Federal officials say that ground beef used by Southern California Fatburger restaurants in May was included in a recent recall for possible E. coli O157:H7 contamination because the manufacturer did not follow required testing and handling guidelines.

Comments by those officials of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety & Inspection Service in Washington also apply to 2,016 pounds of ground beef under the “Cattleman’s Choice” label by Sterling Pacific Meat Co. that was shipped to California and Arizona restaurants. Both the Cattleman’s Choice beef and 1,500 pounds under the “Fatburger” label, while produced in May, were subject to a recall earlier this month after a government inspection of records held by Sterling Pacific Meat Co. of City of Commerce, Calif.

No illnesses have been linked to the meat in question.

Santa Monica, Calif.-based Fatburger Corp., which operates 31 namesake restaurants and franchises 60 to others, earlier this month posted at its website a statement about the ground beef situation. It said that while an initial Bax test by its supplier showed the possibility of E. coli contamination in 1,500 pounds of meat headed for its Southern California restaurants, a second Biomedix test “produced a conclusive negative [contamination-free] result.”

Fatburger officials also noted that the chain uses only fresh ground beef and that the recalled product had been used up within a week some months before the potential problem was uncovered.

But Brian Mabry of the FSIS this week said that Sterling Pacific Meat Co. did not follow required protocols to prove conclusively that the meat was contaminate free after initial screening indicated possible E. coli adulteration. He also noted that the packaging for product shipped to Fatburger had instructions for freezing, which meant that it had to be named in the recall regardless of the chain’s typical practice of using only fresh product because of the possibility some meat may have been frozen and still available for use.

Sterling Pacific Meat Co. did not return a call from Nation’s Restaurant News seeking comment about the recall.

The full list of specific products being recalled is available at:

Mabry, deputy director, congressional and media, in the FSIS office of public affairs and consumer education, explained that his agency faulted the meat supplier for its handling of the ground beef because the Bax system and the Biomedix system, cited in Fatburger’s statement, are both “screening tests.” That’s a problem, according to his agency’s Directive 10,010.1 Revision 2 for meat processors, he indicated, as that document spells out that “performances of additional screening tests do not negate the original positive screening test,” as “a screening test is not a conclusive [specific] test for the pathogen.”

Mabry said that FSIS directives dictate that the meat in question should only have been shipped to end users after an approved secondary test was performed to ascertain that the ground beef was truly E. coli free. Short of passing such a secondary test, the meat should have been held by the supplier for processing to destroy the pathogen, either on-site or at an appropriate remote site, or sent to render or a landfill, he said, citing FSIS rules.

E. coli O157:H7 is a potentially deadly pathogen that can cause bloody diarrhea, dehydration, and in the most severe cases, kidney failure. The very young, seniors and persons with weakened immune systems are the most susceptible to serious complications. Thorough cooking can eliminate or greatly reduce the dangers posed by the bug.

Contact Alan J. Liddle at [email protected].

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