On August 31, American Beef Packers, Inc. released a Class II recall – the second most serious health-hazard classification – on nearly 25,000 pounds of raw beef. This equates to the lives of around 58 cows and is equivalent in weight to the anchor of a cruise liner. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has advised American consumers to throw all affected beef in the garbage.
The 12 tons of sirloin, chuck, and boneless beef that were shipped to grocery stores throughout California and Oregon have been declared “unfit for human consumption.” The FSIS had retained a cow carcass for lab testing, but the carcass was accidentally returned to the processing line, causing uncertainty about potential pathogens or foreign substances that could be mixed with the other carcasses.
What Is Really Wasted
When an incident like this happens, it is not just a public health crisis. It is also a tragic waste of money and resources. Take a moment to consider how much water, pasture land, energy, grain, corn, soy, antibiotics, labor, processing, packaging, transportation, and refrigeration went into this 25,000 pounds of beef that will either go to waste or make people sick. It is bad enough that beef ranks among the most resource-intensive foods to produce in terms of water use, carbon footprint, and land use. As climate change continues to put pressure on global food and economic systems we need to be in the mindset of consuming resources more responsibly.
Overall, over one quarter of all the meat that enters the US retail market is wasted. This corresponds to over 25 billion fish, over 15 billion shellfish, over a billion chickens and over a hundred million other land animals that we kill to serve the US food supply.
The consequence of such an incident creates a second economic ripple effect if large groups of people call out of work with food poisoning and check into hospitals and urgent care centers. The Center for Disease Control estimates that food contaminated with Salmonella causes about 1 million illnesses, 19,000 hospitalizations, and 380 deaths in the United States each year.
Salmonella is one of the most common food-borne illnesses and comes from exposure to animal feces.
Freak Accident, or Standard Practice?
This recall is not a rarity. In 2018 alone, the United States issued 125 recalls on over 20.5 million pounds of meat, over half of which was beef. A frightening 77% of these recalls were designated as “Class I,” which the FSIS describes as “a health hazard situation where there is a reasonable probability that the use of the product will cause serious, adverse health consequences or death.”
The most common reasons for recalling meat include dangerous and widely known pathogens like E. Coli, Listeria, and Salmonella, but over 1.5 million pounds of meat was recalled last year for “extraneous material” or “unapproved substances” in the meat.
Does this make you feel hungry, or queasy? If you think “the less I know, the better” about the food you eat, should you really be eating it?
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