WASHINGTON -- Consumers buying thousands of tons of meat this summer season for barbecues and cookouts were inundated with food-safety news, as the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service here reported more than 900,000 pounds of recalled ground beef and meat products over a single two-week span in July and August, all due to possible bacterial contamination.
Federal officials attribute the increase in the call-backs to improved testing methods, though the timing could not be worse for retailers and processors alike, coming during the outdoor grilling season. However, they noted there have been no reports of any illness or deaths in connection with any of the recalled meats.
Several major producers and retailers have been affected by the recalls, all of which were issued voluntarily by companies in the Northeast, Midwest and even Alaska, after routine sample testing by FSIS inspectors detected traces of either E. coli O157:H7 or Listeria monocytogenes.
Three Northeastern chains -- Giant Food Stores, Carlisle, Pa.; Stop & Shop Supermarket Co., Quincy, Mass.; and Pathmark Stores, Carteret, N.J., among others -- all felt the effects of two of the biggest recalls of the summer, involving nearly 600,000 pounds of ground beef produced by Moyer Packing Co., Souderton, Pa.
Various other food retailers pulled meat products from their shelves in Connecticut, New York, Rhode Island, Virginia and Oregon in reaction to the troublesome weeks of hefty recalls across the country:
July 29, 2000: Moyer Packing Co. recalled 346,000 pounds of ground beef due to possible E. coli contamination.
July 31, 2000: Jac Pac Foods, Manchester, N.H., recalled 210,000 pounds of ground beef patties due to possible E. coli contamination.
Aug. 3, 2000: Levonian Bros., Troy, N.Y., recalled 19,000 pounds of various ready-to-eat meats due to possible Listeria monocytogenes contamination.
Aug. 5, 2000: Moyer Packing Co. recalled another 253,350 pounds of ground beef due to possible E. coli contamination.
Aug. 8, 2000: IBP Inc., Dakota Dunes, S.D., recalled 73,800 pounds of ground beef and ground chuck due to possible E. coli contamination. This followed two June recalls totaling 46,000 pounds and 266,000 pounds of beef.
Several smaller amounts of meat product were also recalled from shelves in recent weeks, such as 3,300 pounds of chicken salad from Home Made Brand Foods, Newburyport, Mass., due to possible Listeria monocytogenes contamination, and 800 pounds of ground beef from C&J Tender Meats, Anchorage, Alaska, due to possible E. coli contamination.
After issuing the two largest recalls of the summer, Moyer Packing Co. followed what by now has become a well-trod path: Officials reiterated the company's focus on helping consumers to locate any potentially tainted meat that they may have purchased, and announced a thorough examination of its processing procedures and food-safety systems, all in hopes of avoiding the need for such measures in the future.
"Right now, our main objective is to keep the consumers aware of what may be out there, even after the recall, and give them any information or assistance they need in avoiding these products," said Ella Roush, Moyer's spokeswoman.
Roush said that the company has activated an 800 phone number that customers can call at any time with questions concerning meat they may have bought from retailers it distributes to.
She added that most retailers have been "extremely cooperative and supportive" in carrying out the recall, and that some have even posted consumer alerts of their own in stores and in meat departments.
The alerts inform consumers of the situation and what they should do about purchasing beef, or whom to contact if they have done so recently.
"Our focus is on those consumers who may have purchased the questionable products," said Roush. "Once we know they are all in the clear, then we can regroup and figure out what our next step will be."
Roush added that Moyer Packing is always looking to improve its production and safety standards, and that it hopes to "learn what we can from this unfortunate situation."