- JBS Tolleson, Inc., in Arizona is recalling nearly 7 million pounds of raw beef products because they may be contaminated with salmonella, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service announced this week. The beef was packaged between July 26 and Sept. 7. The agency posted a 33-page list of the recalled items, which were shipped to retail locations and institutions across the country.
- 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 food storage and freezers for the recalled products. So far, the agency said 57 people from 16 states have been infected with the outbreak salmonella strain and 14 have been hospitalized.
- FSIS said investigators were able to link the beef products to outbreak patients with store receipts. Traceback then identified JBS Tolleson as the common supplier of the ground beef products, the agency said.
FSIS released a list of some named retail outlets that received the recalled beef products, including Save Mart Supermarkets, FoodMaxx, Lucky Stores, Harveys Supermarket and Winn-Dixie Supermarket. The list of recalled products notes the items were sold under various brand names, including Comnor Perfect Choice, Gourmet Burger, Cedar River Farms Natural Beef, Grass Run Farms, Showcase and JBS Generic. According to CNN, the recalled beef was also sold under Walmart and Showcase/Walmart brands.
Salmonella is one of the most common foodborne illnesses in the U.S., but the pathogen is more often associated with poultry, eggs or produce than beef. A salmonella outbreak in June linked to watermelon, honeydew melon, cantaloupe and fresh-cut fruit products from Caito Foods in Illinois sickened 60 people in five states and prompted a recall. Last year's salmonella outbreak involving papayas imported from Mexico sickened 46 people in 12 states and killed one of them.
Beef recalls are more commonly caused by E. coli contamination, such as the recent Publix supermarket chain recall that may have been associated with 18 illnesses in Florida, although no specific source was identified. Since the JBS Tolleson recall was caused by salmonella, it may cause more fear for consumers buying any sort of meat.
Brands typically do everything they can to avoid a recall since the financial cost and the hit to a company's reputation can be severe. Damages could average as much as $10 million, according to a study from the Food Marketing Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers Association. In the second quarter of this year, SpartanNash reported $2.9 million in losses from the Caito Foods recall.
Consumer trust is often shaken by recall news, but the public may be willing to forgive if a brand handles the recall in a forthright manner, explains what went wrong and makes clear what steps are being taken to fix problems so they aren't likely to happen again. Transparency in sourcing, products and processing is increasingly important, but so is handling recalls and other difficult situations with a straightforward approach.
If a recall is not handled well, consumers may not forget it for a long time. According to a Harris Interactive poll, 55% of consumers said they would temporarily move to another brand after a recall, about 15% would never buy the recalled product and 21% would refuse to buy any brand made by that manufacturer.
This massive recall could hurt JBS Tolleson, which is a unit of Brazilian-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.
Preventing recalls is a far better strategy than coping with one after the fact, so beef processors observing the JBS Tolleson situation may want to double-check to make sure their food safety procedures are in order, pathogen testing is up to date and staff members are adequately trained to spot potential problems. Retailers carrying any recalled products would be smart to pull them off the shelf immediately and advise consumers about it through phone calls, text messages and social media outlets.
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. Sales of plant-based meat alternatives jumped 24% in the past year to $670 million, according to Nielsen and the Plant Based Foods Association, while sales of animal meats were up just 2%. Beef recalls could push those plant-based sales numbers even higher, which could end up being a longer-term problem for the industry.