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And now, something to chew over: Reports on food-borne illness and meat recalls

March 3, 2010 | 10:33 am

Meat Sitting down for that morning cup of coffee and snack? Before you begin munching, here are a couple of food-related news bites to consider:

A report released Wednesday puts the price tag of food-borne illnesses in the U.S. at -- ready for it? -- $152 billion a year. That is more than four times an earlier USDA estimate, and includes the costs of medical bills, lost wages and lost productivity. The goal of the report, its authors say, is to jolt Congress into passing new food safety legislation, which enjoy bipartisan support but have lost political oomph amid the brouhaha over healthcare. Read more about it here.

It’s been a bit of a big month for cases of E. coli contamination found in beef. This week, Randolph Packing Co. in North Carolina recalled about 96,000 pounds of beef that, according to a routine test by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, was found to be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7. The meat, sold in combination packages and 30-pound boxes, bears the marking “EST 6590” inside the USDA inspection mark. The company said the meat was processed in late February and then was shipped to federal wholesale sites in Illinois, Missouri, New York, Ohio and Virginia.

West Missouri Beef in Missouri recalled about 14,000 pounds of fresh boneless beef products last month that the USDA said may be contaminated with E. coli. The meat, which was distributed to wholesalers in the Chicago area, was sold in containers that had "EST 5821" stamped inside the USDA's mark of inspection. (The agency said there have been no reports of illness.)

Also last month, a California meat company recalled 4.9 million pounds of beef and veal amid concerns over unsafe processing practices. The company, Huntington Meat Packing Inc. of Montebello, had recalled 864,000 pounds of beef in January because it was suspected of being contaminated with E. coli. USDA officials, who said no illnesses have been linked to the meat, said the recall was expanded because the meat was handled and processed in a way that didn’t follow the company’s food safety plan. The meat, which had been processed as early as January 2009, was sold and sent to hotels, restaurants and distribution centers in California. The meat that’s been recalled includes diced beef, beef patties, veal patties and beef burrito filling mix. Each box has “EST 17967” stamped inside the USDA mark of inspection.

Still hungry?

-- P.J. Huffstutter

Photo: Meat being ground at a Washington company. The company is not among the list of firms mentioned in the blog item whose beef products have been recalled. Credit: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images