Monday, January 14, 2008

Where’s the beef?

I am sure all of you who grew up in the 1980s remember the “Where’s the beef” commercial.

For the past few weeks I have been covering a story regarding the theft of a refrigerated trailer in Fort Worth, TX, which was loaded with more than 14,000 pounds of ground beef product.

What’s the most disturbing in this case is that some of that product had tested positive for E.coli bacteria earlier on the day it was stolen from American Fresh Foods’ parking lot on Dec. 19.

Something as simple as a kingpin lock may have prevented the theft of the trailer and its contents. Now, a joint public health investigation is underway between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Dallas Environmental and Health Services Department to try and recover approximately 80 percent of the meat, which is still unaccounted for.

Scary, isn’t it?

Famed E.coli attorney Bill Marler of Marler Clark LLP and I talked after the trailer was found and most of the ground beef products were missing. Many of our questions regarding why potentially contaminated meat was being stored in a trailer have still gone unanswered.

American Fresh Spokeswoman Agi Schafer said a portion of the ground beef products in the trailer was “segregated” after low levels of E. coli contamination were detected in some of it. The other products in the trailer were close to their expiration date. She said she was unsure what the company’s plan was for the beef, which was being temporarily stored in the trailer.

Even though some of the product tested positive for E.coli, there is a USDA loophole that allows meat companies to “rework” the contaminated product. This means that the meat can be cooked to a certain temperature to supposedly “kill” the potentially deadly bacteria. The product can then be sold to consumers as what is known as a cooked product.

Investigators in Dallas, TX, where the trailer was found, are combing the area, interviewing residents and area restaurants because there have been reports that an individual is going door-to-door trying to unload the product.

Some of my co-workers tell me they just want to enjoy their food – they don’t want to hear about recalls or what’s potentially in it – they just want to eat it without worry.

I remember those days.