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Massive recall triggers more questions over US meat safety

By Rory Harrington , 15-Feb-2010

Huntington Meat Packing Inc has recalled a further 4.9 million pounds (2.2m kg) of meat that was not processed in line with the company’s HACCP plan over the course of almost a year, said US authorities.

The announcement followed the recall of over 800,000 pounds (390,000 kg) of beef last month by the same company on fears the product could be contaminated with E.coli.

Connecticut Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro said the incident showed the US meat industry was unable to police itself as she renewed her calls for a safety overhaul of the sector.

The US Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) confirmed the recall of beef and veal products had been issued because Huntington had failed to follow its food safety plan at its Montebello plant for almost a year from January 2009 onwards.

“The products are adulterated because the company made the products under insanitary conditions failing to take the steps it had determined were necessary to produce safe products”, said an FSIS statement.

No illnesses have been reported in connection with eating the products, added the safety watchdog.

Criminal investigation

The FSIS said the recall had been expanded based on evidence collected in as “ongoing criminal investigation” being carried out by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), in which it was also taking part.

“This evidence shows that the products subject to this recall expansion were produced in a manner that did not follow the establishment's Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) plan,” it added.

A HACCP plan describes the process controls an establishment must take to prevent food safety hazards and create a safe and wholesome product.

The joint probe had “uncovered evidence to show that the food safety records of the establishment cannot be relied upon to document compliance with the requirements”, said the US authority.

Almost one year

The latest recall covers a raft of 10-50 pound boxes of beef and veal products processed between 22 January, 2009, and 4 January, 2010.

Each crate bears the establishment number 'EST. 17967' inside the USDA mark of inspection on a label. The products were shipped to distribution centres, restaurants, and hotels in California.

The incident will only serve to increase the pressure for improvements to safety standards in the US meat industry.
"This recall dispels the notion that the meat industry can police itself to ensure the safety of meat products," said DeLauro told US media. "This is a company that failed to follow the food safety plan that it developed and may have knowingly produced meat products under unsanitary conditions. Those products were then sold for consumption over a period of 347 days. This is unacceptable and we should not allow companies to operate under this kind of regulatory regime."

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