Meat Industry INSIGHTS Newsletter

980828 Beef Industry Thrives Despite Recalls

August 11, 1998

Omaha, NB - The largest beef recall in U.S. history has not stopped people from buying hamburger. Fear that it would ripple across the industry last summer when federal officials warning of E. coli contamination recalled 25 million pounds of ground beef produced at a Hudson Foods Co. plant in Columbus, Neb. Two smaller beef recalls from a BeefAmerica plant in Norfolk, Neb., in October continued to cast a bad light on the industry. But a small dip in consumer confidence that followed the Hudson recall did not affect sales, said Chuck Schroeder, chief executive of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. Recent industry surveys show high confidence in the safety of beef.

The average American eats about 64 pounds of beef a year, a number that has not changed much in the last four years. Analysts said the industry faces other challenges-a lower market share than 12 years ago because of poultry and pork competition, low prices this year because of a glut of cattle and the Asian financial crisis-but those are not related to meat safety concerns.

The Hudson Beef recall drew headlines across the country. Burger King pulled all hamburger meat supplied by the plant, and for more than a day one-quarter of its restaurants in 28 states had chicken and fish but no burgers for sale. Grocery stores pulled frozen patties from their shelves and people checked their freezers for any of the recalled meat. Cattle groups quickly got out the word that safe handling of beef-cleaning counters, knives and hands, and cooking hamburger to 160 degrees-kills E. coli O157:H7 bacteria. Nor did the industry hide the fact that E. coli is a problem it wants to eradicate. That made the difference with consumers, Schroeder said. People understood and did not drop meat from their menus.

The industry is still responding. A coalition of ranchers, meat packers, processors and scientists formed the Beef Industry Food Safety Council after the Hudson recall. It wants to spend $50 million over five years in government and private money for meat safety education and research. Meatpacking plants across the country are spending millions of dollars on innovative ways to eradicate E. coli from their operations - including organic rinses and steam pasteurization. Many processors eliminated the practice of reworking meat-processing meat leftover from one day's production with meat processed the next day; the practice was blamed for the size of Hudson's recall, which covered several days of production. Stricter federal rules for preventing contamination that were in the works before the recall took effect this year for large meatpacking plants. They will be phased in by January 2000 for smaller plants. In Nebraska, the nation's second-leading beef producer, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is using $1.25 million allocated by the Legislature for research into E. coli. E. coli scares around the country also have made it clear the bacteria can infect swimming pools, drinking water, apple juice and vegetables

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