NATIONAL MEAT ASSOCIATION h 1970 Broadway, Suite 825, Oakland, CA 94612

(510) 763-1533 Fax (510) 763-6186 h Email Address: [email protected] h



Edited by Kiran Kernellu

August 5, 2002




Packers and processors have plenty of questions about USDA’s pathogen testing and recall policies, but there is little clear guidance.  Beef production practices are the focus of the questions, and there are as many answers as there are stars in the sky.  The purpose of this item is to provide some basic guidance for the folks that make the operating decisions every hour of every day.


Large quantities of beef, including trim and whole/partial muscle cuts, move through the system daily, much of it in 2,000-pound combo bins.  Varying pathogen-testing schemes are required by different customers. A suggestion that these be standardized bears merit, but may not be possible in a competitive free market environment.  Since 1999, if a sample was taken from a combo of raw beef intended for use in raw comminuted product and was reported positive for E. coli O157:H7, the combo had to be  diverted to a further processor that had a heat kill step or to rendering.  If a single positive combo represented several combos as a lot, the entire lot was so diverted.  Sometimes, there was a composite sample from the several combos that would permit re-testing of each combo in the lot for release or diversion.  If a combo tested negative, it was acceptable for comminuted product.  Because it takes at least 24 hours by official testing method to get a presumptive/negative on a sample for E. coli O157:H7, and four more days to either clear/confirm a presumptive, it was unlikely that every combo would be tested. Hold and test for all combos is not practically possible with a perishable chilled product.


In a draft Q&A from 1999, when asked if one in ten combos tested positive, FSIS said that it recommended testing of the other nine combos, but the presumption was the untested combos were negative. Today, there continues to be a presumption of negative, unless there is evidence of illness.  If there are illnesses, untested combos are likely to be presumed positive by regulators. 


The revised 10,010 Directive uses certification from a slaughterer that they have interventions and they are working, and provides a “shield” to the further processor with respect to USDA taking routine samples for testing. FSIS has not blessed any sub-lotting scheme that to many are simply statistically insufficient when looking for a randomly occurring event. 


Processors ask: Has the agency changed its policy? The answer is: Not really, but there is a subtle shift away from a presumption of the negative in the absence of testing to presumption of positive depending on other possible causative events. Thus, while the rules have not changed, the real story is that how they are applied has changed, depending on the events in the distribution and consumption chain.


In January 1999, FSIS issued a Federal Register Notice that any raw beef intended for use in raw comminuted products would be “deemed” adulterated if it contained E. coli O157:H7.  The practical problem with this policy is: What raw beef products are implicated by a single positive sample?  This is not an easy answer, especially in the case of the large slaughterhouses that produce hundreds of raw beef combos.  The agency developed a Draft Q & A in 1999 that seemed to resolve this uncertainty.  The person conducting the test would define what raw products/combos were represented by the sample.  A positive finding would render all represented raw products adulterated unless diverted to cooking under inspection, to rendering, or to destruction.  A negative finding meant the raw products/combos could be used in raw comminuted products.  That leaves the issue of raw products/combos that were not tested at all.  In these cases, the Draft Q & A indicated such untested products could be used in raw comminuted products.  In effect, the raw products/combos were presumed to be negative.


However, in light of the recent 19 million pound recall, much of which involved untested trimmings, it would seem that reliance on the Draft Q & A's presumption (that untested equals negative) is no longer valid.  If an establishment is implicated in a food borne outbreak, the presumption apparently will automatically go from negative to positive -- that any product not tested will be deemed positive and subject to recall.  It would seem that while the rules have not technically changed, in cases of an O157:H7 outbreak, the practical effect is that there are no rules.


Just as the Draft Q & A does not provide a shield, neither does FSIS Directive 10, 010.1.  The purpose of this Directive is to permit a reduced level of agency testing of ground beef if the establishment undertakes certain proactive measures, such as purchasing from a slaughterer that uses a validated intervention and conducts carcass testing.  The Directive was never meant to be a lot release program or to insulate a grinder from having to recover product if the slaughterhouse recalled product.


It’s really tough to run a business in a climate of regulatory uncertainty, especially when an event in the consumption chain casts doubt on earlier decisions made by managers in production work.  NMA will work with regulators and with its fellow industry organizations to try to get the clarifications that are needed for managers to make sound business decisions.  We will continue to try to keep members informed.


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Pro Food Inc.

Northridge, CA



Kathryn Kotula, Consultant

Storrs, CT


SafeFresh Technolgies

Mercer Island, WA


Computerway Food Systems

High Point, NC


Mossberg Sanitation

Great Bend, KS



Kinderhook, NY


An update will be released later this month with complete new member information.




USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service has the unenviable responsibility to implement Congress’ intent for voluntary Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) as expressed in this year’s Farm Bill. AMS issued a news release on July 25 inviting comments to supplement those already submitted by various stakeholders. The voluntary guidelines are to be issued by September 30 so that retailers can begin labeling beef, pork, lamb, and fish, perishable ag. commodities (fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables) and peanuts by September 30, 2002. Mandatory COOL labeling will follow on September 30, 2004.


The law does not apply to food service establishments, including all those that sell prepared food to the public. See for a copy of the legislation.


NMA has long opposed mandatory country of origin labeling. Indeed, many commodities proudly bear the name of the country from which they came, including all the commodities affected by this legislation. There are some who have concluded that the legislative intent was to identify meat from animals born and raised in the U.S. and that the effort now seems to be to identify meat from animals not born and raised in the U.S., a seemingly 180° paradox! This would then give the proponents of this very costly effort a basis to discriminate against imported livestock and meat.


NMA will be submitted comments this week to meet the AMS deadline of August 9. They will include the following points:


The meat industry needs to have clear and specific information about how to label blended products – meat from the U.S. and from one or more other countries that have been blended to produce a comminuted product. Further, the present livestock trace-back system is inadequate to provide to slaughterers the citizenship of livestock entering the food system, so who’s responsible for providing this information? What will be sufficient for verification and auditing purposes? Also, NMA will ask that the USDA develop an economic impact and estimate the dislocation that may occur if U.S. retailers prefer to purchase meat of a single national origin to avoid complex compliance questions.


COOL looks like another piece of legislation moving towards a veritable train wreck, just like mandatory price reporting. Congress prescribed deadline dates that only ensure a speeding train and a bigger wreck. NMA will post its comments on its web page by Wednesday. We encourage members to send individual letters, or to submit an endorsement of NMA’s comments to AMS. They can be sent by e-mail to [email protected]. Send a copy to mailto:[email protected].





USDA/AMS Livestock & Seed program issued an updated policy for USDA Beef Carcass Certification Programs on July 25, 2002.  It clarifies both the policy for making breed and carcass characteristic claims in a certified program as they are used for the identification of product through to consumers.  For a copy, see:



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Over the five years that Jeremy Russell worked at NMA, he gave dozens of press interviews.  Most were for print, several were on live radio and a few were for television.  He also assisted during annual trips to Washington, DC, as well as at the Summer Board Meetings and Annual Conventions/Biennial Expositions. As well as preparing press materials, ads and general communications surrounding these events, he also organized the last four Sausagefests.


Throughout his time with NMA, Russell has always sought to edit the best newsletters in the industry with diligence, tact and enthusiasm.  The newsletters, Lean Trimmings, Herd on the Hill and Heads up for HACCP, are the central creation of NMA’s communications. Russell has written publications that are not only informative but a pleasure to read. We wish him well in his future endeavors as he and his wife relocate to Montana.




The media is a powerful conduit of information. This power, however, can be a double-edged blade to the meat industry. As D.J. Castaldo wrote in the June 2002 issue of Meat Processing Magazine, “Most meat company executives view a call from the media with a mixture of excitement and trepidation.”


There is something to be excited about. The press is the means by which you can highlight achievements, market products, and build rapport with the public. Castaldo wrote about Devault Foods which, through development of good media relations, garnered stories easily used as marketing tools for its sales staff. Recently NMA was able to highlight the technological advances in food safety in the article, “Modern Meat Safety: A Technological Toolbox,” co-authored by Executive Director Rosemary Mucklow. NMA was pleased to show off some of the accomplishments and advances the meat industry has made. In the industry’s continued efforts, the press can serve as our ally in informing the public of our strides.


The press can sometimes elicit trepidation in its “watchdog” role. NMA offers a publication to its members, “Dealing with the Media and the Consumer During a Recall Situation” which provides helpful reminders to help assuage the trepidation. The four basic tenets include:


1.                  Be prepared – like the good Boy Scout!

2.                  Be responsive – act swiftly.

3.                  Control the message, in so much as you can.

4.                  Be empathetic.


While journalists are often aggressive, they are seeking information. It’s important to avail yourself to a journalist, establishing yourself as a resource. Be honest. As Executive Director Mucklow says, “If you’ve made a mistake, acknowledge it, apologize, and fix it, so that you can move forward.”




The International HACCP Alliance offers a food safety related database on its website. Dr. Kerri Harris, Executive Director of the International HACCP Alliance, leads the project, which resulted from an NMA Education Committee meeting. Harris and Jeff Savell, who oversee the identification and collection of articles by Texas A&M University graduate students, direct the project. Visit the database at to obtain scientific documentation in support of HACCP plan decisions.


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The Denver Post just put out a series of articles on the ConAgra recall that were inflammatory and grossly inaccurate.  The paperboy ran a greater risk of being run down by a bus on his way to deliver the Post than he did of getting E. coli this month.  What is it with people, that they’re so bad at assessing risk?




USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service released the summary report of meats graded for the month of June, 2002. For all quality graded beef, Choice was 56.9%, up from 56.2% in May. Select was 39.9%, down slightly from 40.3% the previous month. And Prime was 3.2% down from 2.5% in May. For a copy of the entire report which covers beef, lamb and mutton, NMA members send a self-addressed/stamped (37¢) envelope to Kiran Kernellu at NMA or visit it online at



NMA - East: 1400 - 16th St. N.W., Suite 400, Washington D.C. 20036 Ph. (202) 667-2108

NMA - West: 1970 Broadway, Suite 825, Oakland, CA 94612 Ph. (510) 763-1533 Fax (510) 763-6186


Edited by Kiran Kernellu

August 5, 2002




Industry critics in Congress introduced the Safer Meat, Poultry, and Food Act of 2002 recently. The legislation in its current form stipulates that USDA and FDA have the authority to mandate that a company recall unsafe meat and poultry products as well as authority to levy civil fines for violations of food safety laws, and requires that companies notify regulatory authorities if they know that a product is adulterated. The bill also requires all companies and distributors throughout the food processing system to notify USDA or FDA if they have knowledge that meat or poultry products are adulterated.


Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Representatives Lynn Rivers (D-MI) and Dianna DeGette (D-CO) introduced the bill. Harkin and Rivers requested a General Accounting Office study that ultimately found that companies have refused or delayed complying with recall requests in several instances. InfoMeat reported that Harkin believes that a system of civil penalties would allow both agencies to better address companies with repeated food safety violations by using graduated enforcement in accordance with the severity of the violation. Harkin said, “Report after report gives us the same result - our food safety laws are not being effectively enforced.” USDA and FDA need to do a much better job on enforcement, and they need better enforcement tools. When a recall is necessary to get contaminated food off store shelves, companies should have to comply, period. It is not the time to fight about who is in charge.”


Historically companies have been quick to comply with USDA in a recall situation. Who is in charge is clear: USDA has the legal authority to seize product in the market. DeGette said, “The USDA’s response to the recent E. coli outbreak has been fraught with confusion, a lack of communication, and inexplicable delays. Giving the USDA and FDA the authority to force a recall is a good first step in addressing these problems.” ConAgra wasted no time in recalling its product once notified of the adulteration, even going so far as to surpass the amount that government agencies mandated it recall.


No system is perfect, least of all the one that produces laws! If Senator Harkin in his limited knowledge about the meat industry tries once again to change the statutory requirements as a mere amendment to an appropriations bill, rather than hold hearings in the Agriculture Committee which he chairs, NMA and others are committed to opposition. In fact, the Senator won’t even meet with industry representatives so that he could better learn more about what really happens, preferring to get input from other uninformed sources.




According to a Public Citzen press release, last month Senator Tom Harkin was among the recipients of a letter from Public Citizen and the Government Accountability Project calling for a congressional investigation into the events that led to the ConAgra recall and USDA’s implementation of HACCP. These groups also sent letters to the chairs of the House and Senate Agriculture committees, the House Government Reform committee and the Senate Government Affairs committee. Public Citizen’s Wenonah Hunter contended that “The ConAgra recall is not an aberration. It is another example of a food safety system that is teetering on the brink of collapse.


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Last week Reuters reported that a study found that foodborne illness associated with subsidized school lunches has sickened tens of thousands over the last 25 years. The report also found that hundreds were sent to the hospital and one death was related to school lunches. Salmonella was found to be the main culprit for the illnesses, accounting for 36% of the outbreaks.


According to lead author Dr. Nicholas A. Daniels, the “USDA directly provides only a small percentage of food served in schools.” Authors wrote, “Strengthening food safety measures in schools would better protect students and school staff from outbreaks of foodborne illness. Infection control policies, such as training and certification of food handlers in the proper storage and cooking of foods, meticulous hand washing…could make meals safer for American students.”




FSIS has named Dr. Garry McKee its new Administrator. Effective next month, McKee will take over from Acting Administrator William Hudnall, who has held the post for the past three months. McKee hails from the Wyoming Department of Health, where he’s served as Director and Cabinet Secretary for the last two years.


“Dr. McKee brings more than 30 years of public health experience to the Administrator position,” USDA Secretary Ann Veneman said. McKee served as Chief of Oklahoma State Department of Health’s Public Health Laboratory for 18 years. He also served as Director of Sanitary Bacteriology for the Department for two years. McKee has been a Lt. Commander in the U.S. Public Health Reserve for the past ten years. He serves as a member of the National Public Health Anti-Terrorism Preparedness Task Force with the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. Additionally, McKee has provided consulting to the Pan American Health Organization on development of laboratory training in Mexico and Guatemala.


McKee’s experience is complemented by his extensive education in science and public health. McKee holds a Ph.D. in Microbiology from the University of Oklahoma. In addition, he earned Masters of Science degrees in Public Health and Environmental Science and a Bachelor of Science in Biology from Southwestern Oklahoma State University.


“[His] experience, combined with a solid record in managing public health programs and personnel, will be a tremendous asset as USDA continues to protect the public health by strengthening food safety programsm,” said Veneman. “Dr. McKee will play an important and active leadership role at USDA as [it] strive[s] to improve management, efficiency, accountability and responsiveness within FSIS,” said Dr. Elsa Murano.


In its quest for improved efficacy, FSIS has made personnel changes as well as additions. Linda Swacina, former Assistant Administrator and Director of the Congressional and Public Affairs Office, now serves as FSIS’ Associate Administrator. Bill Smith, former field-based Assistant Deputy Administrator, Executive Director and Regional Director, now serves as Deputy Administrator of FSIS’ Office of Field Operations. Dr. Karen Hulebak, former FSIS Senior Advisor for Scientific Affairs and Chief Scientist now serves as Deputy Administrator of the Office of Public Health and Science. Hudnall will return to his former position with APHIS.




NMA Executive Director Rosemary Mucklow was presented the Special Recognition Award by the American Meat Science Association on August 1st. The award is “in recognition of her faithful service to the meat industry and its individual members and her common sense leadership in food safety and public policy.”