US: Recall in Ruskin
Posted: October 26th, 2010 - 7:23am
(The views and opinions expressed in this blog are strictly those of the author.)
I was doing a little research on USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) web site today to get data for a presentation I will be making down the road.
Specifically, I was looking to see how many recalls had taken place from 2008 to present, and how many were linked to human illness vs. product testing. To find that information, you must click on each recall notice and read it.
This web site has links to “active” recalls, and “archived” recalls. To get the total picture, you need to access both locations. When you click on the link for “active” recalls the site says: “This page contains summary data on active recall cases. After a recall is completed, it will be removed from this listing.”
Pretty straight forward and easy to understand, I thought. Until I clicked on the active recall notice issued November 17, 2009, for ground beef produced on November 16. That one jogged the memory more than just a little bit, and it caused many questions about how FSIS conducts and processes recalls.
This recall was from Fairbury Steaks, located in Fairbury, Nebraska. Now this is a small town, and a very small plant, both located in a state with a relatively small population base, and a very small Public Health system.
The recall itself was very small. It consisted of just 90 pounds of ground beef packaged in nine 10-pound packages. It was all sold to a very, very small restaurant in the very, very small town of Ruskin, Nebraska, population 190, located about 30 miles down highway 136 from Fairbury.
The USDA home web page now describes FSIS as “the public health agency in the USDA”. If there was a recall on November 17 of meat produced on November 16 that was endangering the public’s health, shouldn’t one public health agency have called another public health agency with responsibility for the health of persons living in or near Ruskin?
Instead, FSIS issued the recall notice on the web. I happen to know this because last November I called the local and state authorities in Nebraska just to check: They had no clue that lives were endangered.
Well, that was all a year ago and could be seen as water under the bridge, until I noticed something the other day while trying to compile that accurate list of recalls for my presentation.
The real surprise came when I saw the Fairbury recall was still listed as in an active phase -- eleven months later. Remember, “After a recall is completed, it will be removed from this listing.” That’s 90 pounds, nine packages, 30 miles down the road, in a very small restaurant and the only eating establishment in town. Surely that recall is not still active.
Clearly leaving it on the “active” list was a simple mistake. But those kinds of mistakes call into question the way USDA is implementing its recall system, its effectiveness in protecting the public’s health and the accuracy of the information it is presenting relative to that system.
My hope is that FSIS will always personally notify local authorities when their charges are in danger, so they can educate and act and assure that adulterated meat is being destroyed. This would not require an increase in appropriations, nor require new statutes or regs — it just requires common sense.
It’s also my hope that someone at FSIS is tasked with completing the online “paperwork” by making sure when a recall is complete, that recall is “archived.”