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Some recalled beef hit store shelves 10 months ago

Another day, another food recall. A California slaughterhouse is voluntarily recalling 1 million pounds of ground beef after seven people sickened by E.coli contamination had their illnesses traced to the meat.

According to an Associated Press brief in The New York Times, the recalled ground beef was processed by the Valley Meat Company between Oct. 2, 2009 and Jan. 12, 2010. The meat was mainly sold to institutional users: schools, prisons and the like, but also to ordinary consumers in California, Texas, Oregon, Arizona and overseas.  Consumer Reports provides links to a US Dept. of Agriculture website that will soon list retailers that sold the product. A more technical list, also from the USDA, offers the various sizes, packaging and brands of the tainted burger patties.

Federal officials were alerted to a possible problem after state public health officials in California traced six illnesses reported between April and June to the beef. A seventh case was added later.

Contaminated burgers have become something of a rite of summer in the U.S. over recent decades. And while proposed solutions, such as irradiating meat or the addition of bacteria-killing ammonia have spawned their own debates, there is something genuinely absurd about these recalls.

Granted seven reported illnesses attributed to 1 million pounds of meat doesn’t rise to the level of emergency. And USDA food labs don’t function at the speed portrayed on TV crime dramas. Yet one wonders how well the public would be served in an actual full-blown emergency if it takes a full ten months after contaminated meat first hit store shelves for the public to be alerted to the problem.

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