- Aurora Packing Co. recalled about 62,112 pounds of raw beef because it may be contaminated with E. coli. The pathogen was found during traceback investigations after random sample testing by the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service. No related illnesses have been reported, FSIS said.
- The beef — whole cuts, including skirt, brisket and ribs — was packed on April 19 and shipped nationwide, mainly to institutions, according to Consumer Reports. The recalled products have the establishment number "EST. 788" inside the USDA mark of inspection.
- In March, Aurora Packing recalled about 4,838 pounds of bulk beef heel and chuck tender products for potential E. coli contamination. Those recalled items bore the same establishment number and were shipped for institutional use in Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin, FSIS said.
A FSIS spokesman told Consumer Reports not all of the most recently recalled beef from Aurora Packing has been traced to its final location, although the majority probably didn't wind up in grocery stores or restaurants. It could still be in institutional facility freezers, the agency warned, in which case it should be tossed or returned to where it was purchased.
The department advises consumers to eat fresh or frozen raw beef only after it has been cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit as measured by a food thermometer. Researchers have found some E. coli strains are able to survive cooking to 160 degrees Fahrenheit, so meat producers might want to advise consumers to cook these products until they're well done — and to use a food thermometer — to be on the safe side.
A recall is never good news, but to have a beef-related one right before the Memorial Day weekend is particularly unfortunate. Many people are starting to plan summertime barbecues and other gatherings featuring grilled beef products. And since the same company had another beef recall just two months ago, it could raise questions about the overall operation.
But it isn't just Aurora facing recalls. Since March 2018, FSIS has posted 62 separate recalls involving meat products potentially contaminated by E. coli, salmonella, listeria or foreign matter. While these recalls may stem from different causes, the number of them — and the millions of pounds of recalled items — isn't likely to assure consumers the meat they eat is safe. The news of this latest recall could stoke fear in the safety of the product and the brand's reputation. And all these continued recalls could negatively impact consumer confidence in beef products.
Because of these recalls, FSIS recently issued voluntary safety guidelines for meat companies telling them to start internal investigations whenever consumers complain about their products and to inform the agency within 24 hours if contamination has been found. The goal is to enhance communication and testing procedures so recalls will occur more quickly than they have in the past.
The number of foodborne illnesses has jumped in recent years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but it could partially be because of wider use of culture-independent diagnostic tests. Some processors are responding by working on food safety improvements. Tyson Ventures, the meat company's VC arm, recently invested in Clear Labs' automated food safety platform, which can detect salmonella in 24 hours instead of three to five days.
For those consumers losing trust in beef, there are plenty of plant-based options ready to give conventional meat producers some competition, and cell-based meat could soon be available. Per capita meat consumption is at a record high, but more people are turning to other protein products. The beef industry has an even greater incentive to redouble its food safety efforts and track down the sources of contamination — and either reduce or eliminate them.
Correction: In a previous version of this article, the capability of Clear Labs' food safety platform was misstated.