The 2002 ConAgra recall was one of this nation’s largest beef recalls. Tainted meat was linked to the sickening of dozens of people through E. coli infection.
Marler Clark represented many who ate tainted beef in 2002. As I told the Associated Press today:
“I think that the ConAgra E. coli outbreak was a major tipping point in the meat industry and their commitment to dealing with E. coli.”
The timeline leading to the recall was as follows:
• January 2002 — Ground beef from Montana Quality Foods in Miles City, Mont., tests positive for E. coli. Operator John Munsell recalls 270 pounds of meat.
• February 2002 — Additional beef samples return positive for E. coli. Munsell claims the tainted meat originated from ConAgra Beef Co., a supplier.
• Mid-June 2002 — Dozens of people in 16 states ate ConAgra beef and fell ill from E. coli infection, according to a report from the Office of Inspector General. Federal Food Safety and Inspection Service testing found E. coli at a Colorado meat grinder, but later testing indicated the contamination source as beef from a ConAgra plant in Greeley, Colo.
• Late June 2002 — ConAgra Beef Co. issues a recall of 354,200 pounds of ground beef products for possible contamination of E. coli.
• July 2002 — ConAgra issues a recall for 19 million pounds of beef trim and ground beef products for possible E. coli contamination, after a review by FSIS.
• January 2003 — National Cattlemen’s Beef Association hosts an industry-wide summit to look at the issue of E. coli and ways to address potential contamination.
FSIS has enacted numerous changes since the E. coli outbreak, including improved training for inspectors and requiring greater accountability from supervisors. Plants that do their own testing are no longer exempt from agency testing, and FSIS is moving toward increased testing at higher-volume facilities.
Fred Angulo with the Centers for Disease Control and Protection believes that the meat processing industry is doing something right. He cites data showing a 42 percent drop in E. coli incidence between 1996 and 2004, including what he called “remarkable declines” in the past two years.
“All indications we have are the beef industry made remarkable investments in their processing plants to contribute to this decline,” he said told the Associated Press.