andrew schneider investigates

July 11, 2008

Feds to ID stores with tainted food

It’s not going to help consumers who still may have E. coli tainted meat in their freezers, but soon the USDA may finally stop keeping dangerous secrets and begin telling the public which stores received potentially hazardous meat.

This morning, Ed Schafer, the Secretary of Agriculture, said that beginning next month USDA will announce the specific retail stores that received meat and poultry involved in a Class 1 recall, which is one that involves a reasonable probability of serious health consequences or death for those with weakened immune systems.

“The identity of retail stores with recalled meat and poultry from their suppliers has always been a missing piece of information for the public during a recall . . . and by providing lists of retail outlets during recalls, USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service will improve public health protection by better informing consumers.” said Schafer.

The FSIS will identify supermarkets or other grocery stores, convenience stores, meat markets, wholesale clubs and supercenters, but not distribution centers, institutions or restaurants, since they prepare food for immediate consumption without packaging that is identifiable or available to consumers, the agency said.

However, in a statement issued today, Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports, criticized USDA’s refusal to list institutions such as schools and nursing homes that have been shipped recalled products.

“People want to know if their children or elderly parents might be getting a potentially dangerous food product and can help bring attention to the need for action on a recall at these institutions,” said Jean Halloran, Director of Food Policy Initiatives for the organization.
Nonetheless, Halloran is pleased that USDA will not longer keep consumers in the dark about recalled meat.

“Up until now, when USDA announced a recall of contaminated meat, it would only tell the public the states where the product was distributed. The specific names and locations of stores that got the product — the information that can actually help the consumer — were kept confidential.

“Now when there is a recall, consumers will know if their supermarket carried the tainted meat. This is a change that can give consumers peace of mind, and in certain cases avoid serious illness and even save lives,” she said.

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