- The raw beef recall from JBS Tolleson, Inc., in Arizona has expanded by more than 5 million pounds due to potential salmonella contamination, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service announced Tuesday. The total amount being recalled is now about 12 million pounds.
- The recalled products were packaged between July 26 and Sept. 7. The agency posted an 18-page list of the expanded recalled items, which were shipped to retail locations and institutions across the country, plus photos of the labels. The products subject to recall bear establishment number “EST. 267” inside the USDA mark of inspection.
- The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is advising consumers and retailers not to eat, serve or sell ground beef produced by JBS Tolleson and to check freezers for the recalled products. As of Nov. 15, the agency said 246 people from 25 states have been infected with the outbreak salmonella strain and 59 have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported, the CDC said.
About two months after its original recall, JBS Tolleson announced this week that it was voluntary expanding the recall because although the affected products have been removed from retail stores, some consumers may still have frozen product in their freezers.
"As a food company, our first priority is the safe production of food," the company said in a statement. "While no products in this expansion have been definitively linked to any illness, we have determined in consultation with USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) that this action is in the best interests of public health."
While this is a massive beef recall by industry and federal agency standards, it's not the biggest. There have been at least four larger beef-related recalls in the past 21 years.
The biggest one occurred in 2008, when Westland/Hallmark Beef recalled 143 million pounds due to the inhumane handling and slaughter of animals. The others involved Hudson Beef, which recalled more than 25 million pounds of ground beef in 1997 for E. coli contamination; Topps Meat, where 21.7 million pounds of ground beef patties were recalled for E. coli; and Conagra, which recalled more than 19 million pounds in 2002, also for E. coli.
The JBS recall isn't the only recent ground beef recall either. In October, Cargill recalled 132,608 pounds of ground beef products because of potential contamination with E. coli.
JBS Tolleson is a unit of Brazil-based JBS S.A., the largest meat processing company in the world. The corporate parent presumably has the resources to handle this sort of recall, although legal expenses, lost sales and damaged credibility could come with a hefty price tag. But since the company's beef products are sold under various brand names in the U.S., consumers may not realize they're buying JBS products.
Whether the company will be able to regain consumer trust after this recall — and the latest expansion — is another question. Besides the risk to public health and brand reputation, consumer confidence in beef products may also be at risk. Per capita meat consumption is at a record high, but more consumers are turning to plant-based protein products, so the beef industry has an even greater incentive to redouble its food safety efforts and get to the sources of contamination — and reduce or eliminate them.
JBS clearly understands the risk to its business, and it could help that they appear to be taking it seriously. The company said it has launched an internal investigation led by Al Amanza, the company's global head of food safety and quality assurance — and also the former head of FSIS and former undersecretary of food safety at the USDA.
"Based on the results of this investigation and a full evaluation of our internal processes and controls, we have made the decision to voluntarily test 100% of the beef trimmings produced in the Tolleson facility," JBS said.
These outbreaks and recalls could also spark policy changes. The Consumer Federation of America just published a report urging regulators to consider raw meat and poultry "adulterated" if it contains salmonella contamination, as they would with E. coli.
"Unfortunately, without a change in federal inspection policy, we can expect more of these outbreaks," Thomas Gremillion, director of the Food Policy Institute at CFA and author of the report, said in a statement. "The standards for controlling Salmonella contamination in ground beef are woefully outdated."