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Usda Recalls 19 Million Pounds of Beef Contaminated with E Coli in the 2nd Largest Beef Recall in US History - We'll Look at How the Meat Industry Blocked Reform

July 23, 2002

It is the second largest beef recall in US history. Almost 19 million pounds of ground beef were taken off the market last Friday after 19 people in Colorado were sickened by hamburger processed by meat industry giant ConAgra Foods.

As of this morning, at least six other cases of food poisoning have been reported in California, Michigan, South Dakota, Washington and Wyoming.

The U.S. Agriculture Department said meat from the company’s Colorado plant may be contaminated with the deadly E. coli bacterium.

The toxic strain of E. coli bacteria can lead to bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramps, kidney damage and in some cases death. It is spread to meat during the butchering process from cattle feces or transmitted through contaminated water.

It is also easy to spread the bacteria in industrial slaughterhouses, where the meat of dozens of animals can be ground together. The infected meat of a single steer could contaminate an entire day’s production.

This is the second time in less than a month that ConAgra—one of the nation’s largest food distributors—has had to recall beef. The company recalled another 354,200 pounds of beef on June 30. Federal plant inspectors confirmed the contamination on June 19, but ConAgra wasn’t notified until ten days later.

Many blame Agriculture Department testing procedures for the delay between the initial discovery and the two recalls.

After the nation’s largest recall of beef in history, when Hudson Foods recalled 25 million pounds in 1997, Congress mounted an effort to increase the number of inspections and tighten safety standards in packing plants. But the meat industry blocked that effort.


  • Jeremy Russell, Spokesperson, National Meat Association.
  • Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director, Center for Science in the Public Interest and author of "Is Our Food Safe?"