JBS Swift Beef Recalls 400,000+ Pounds of Beef, E.coli 0157:H7 Outbreak in 13 States

JBS Swift has voluntarily recalled 42,000 pounds of beef over 400,000 pounds of beef products (update 2009.06.28) packaged in late April from 13 states at the request of the USDA after fears of another e.coli 0157:H7 outbreak.  It is now feared this outbreak is linked with up 18 illnesses as of june 29th.   This news comes only one week after last Friday’s major Nestle E.coli 0157:H7 outbreak in cookie dough.

The USDA has classified the outbreak as a ‘Class I Recall‘ which is the highest level of severity their FSIS division applies to any recall. JBS’ official website does not mention the outbreak but the USDA’s FSIS has provided the relevant details of the recall. Their website can be found here.

Here we have organized the recalled product list for quicker reference in a table format.

Swift Initial Recall List

This was the list as of June 24th, 2009:

Beef Item Description Case Code
USDA CHOICE OR HIGHER, Bnls Beef Bottom Sirloin, Butt Ball Tip 2/DN S/T 21852
USDA CHOICE OR HIGHER, Bnls Beef Bottom Sirloin, Butt Ball Tip 2/UP S/T 21853
Swift, Bnls Beef Bottom Sirloin, Butt Ball Tip 2/DN S/T. 31852
Bnls Beef Bottom Sirloin, Butt Ball Tip 2/UP S/T. 31853
Swift, USDA SELECT, Bnls Beef Bottom Sirloin, Butt Ball Tip 2/DN S/T. 33852
USDA SELECT, Bnls Beef Bottom Sirloin, Butt Ball Tip 2/UP S/T 33853
BLACK ANGUS, Swift Premium, BEEF, USDA CHOICE OR HIGHER, Bnls Beef Bottom Sirloin, Butt Ball Tip 2/UP S/T 41853
Bnls Beef Bottom Sirloin, Butt Ball Tip 2/DN S/T 79852
Bnls Beef Bottom Sirloin, Butt Ball Tip 2/UP S/T 79853
USDA CHOICE OR HIGHER, Bnls Beef Bottom Sirloin, Butt Ball Tip 2/UP S/T 90853

On June 28th, the recall list was expanded to about 60,000 beef products.  We arent going to create a table that big for this webpage, but we have uploaded the .pdf file to our Scribd account and it is embedded here for you to review if necessary:

States Involved:
Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah and Wisconsin (likely many MANY others now)


Each box bears the establishment number ‘EST. 969′ inside the USDA mark of inspection, identifying package dates of ’042109′ or ’042209′“.  This means all the beef was packaged on either April 21st or April 22nd.  Update: upon further inspection, the recall includes all beef produced from 04/21/09 6:00a – 4/22/09 11:30a.  No indication is given as to why the recall cuts off right there.  More product may be added later.

On the USDA recall, there are 11 total items being recalled. We went through the results with a fine tooth comb and found the USDA double-listed result #7 with case code 41853. If this is correct, only 10 case codes are actually being recalled.

However, if you follow the number pattern from the other recalled beef case codes, you see result xxx52 followed by xxx53. It should follow that case 41852 is contaminated with e.coli if case 41853 was double listed (purely speculation on our part, but educated speculation).

We have contacted the USDA to verify this error, as there may be additional beef case codes that were recalled and not properly disseminated to the public. We have temporarily removed that error in our table above, pending confirmation from the USDA. In the mean time, you should AVOID ALL BEEF WITH ANY CASE CODES similar to these until this confusion is resolved.

In the Wild?

Most of the beef produced here was packaged in late April so you will not find it in your grocer’s freezer. But you may find it at your local restaurant of choice.

Swift is a major beef supplier to restaurants and many commercial kitchen stockpile beef products in their freezer, thawing them as needed. So these products could very well remain in the American food supply.

JBS Swift, a major CAFO operator

JBS Swift, a major CAFO operator

Realize though, that this is a small scale recall in the grand scheme of things. Last February, 143 million pounds of ground beef was recalled by the USDA because of a video captured by the Humane Society showing the unethical and brutal treatment of downer cows being forklifted to their feet for slaughter. Downer cows, as you may remember for scares in the late 1990s, are known carriers of mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE), for which there is no cure. Heating meat does not prevent mad cow disease either, hence the gigantic recall.

The only problem with that recall and even this one to some extent, is that the cow is already out of the barn – literally.  Most of the meat is consumed long before it is recalled, as was the case with this Swift situation.

Anybody for Food Safety Yet?

While the mad cow recall of 2008, the largest in history, was many factors larger than this relatively minor one by Swift beef, both underscore just how poor food safety standards have gotten.

Food safety should have odds in Vegas, thanks to flickr user conorwithonen

Food safety should have odds in Vegas, thanks to flickr user conorwithonen

We essentially have a system where the consumer bares all responsibility because no inspections are being done; everything is post-facto, forcing contamination issues into your home. Even worse, the agencies (FDA/USDA) don’t have recall authority so even when they find one of these pathogens, it is at the company who produced the tainted product’s sole discretion to initiate a recall. These large companies often cooperate but the system is so byzantine that it is effectively not a food safety system at all. We have a roulette wheel and the food companies determine when it stops spinning.

The closest thing we have to a food safety system today are the FDA and USDA twitter feeds. Seriously. This is by far the best way to stay up to date on the state of the food supply. Be warned though, youll be surprised if not floored by the sheer quantity of recalls issued on an almost daily basis.

FDA Recall Twitter Feed: @USDAFoodSafety
USDA FSIS Twitter Feed: @FDArecalls

Legislative Realities

Fortunately, all this bad press is having an effect. New food safety legislation, The Food Safety Enhancment Act (HR 2749) is a huge step in the right direction, and going up for a vote on the House floor soon. As it stands now (2009.06.26), the bill is an excellent compromise between small farmers and food safety - a magical mix that took lots of hard work on both sides of the aisle.

Keep in mind though, that It is highly likely that this bill will be changed in substantive ways, and those ways will likely tilt towards the large business interests. Even in a clipped fashion, updating the 80 year old food safety standards in place is mandatory for consumers to regain trust in the system. Recent polls show over 60% of consumers no longer have faith in the food companies (a dramatic decline mostly because of the peanut butter scare). This fact alone ensures that some kind of measure will come from congress in the months ahead, although it may be limping its way to the Senate. Only time will tell.

What we do know is that even though this bill is gathering steam, soon is not soon enough. Many of the provisions in the legislation are at the FDA’s discretion and will take years to set up. In the meantime, find local pasture-raising operations where the cattle ranchers will gladly show you their herds. Reject this factory farming circus until the train wreck is cleared from the tracks.