A US meat processor at the centre of last week's huge recall of beef linked to antibiotic-resistant salmonella was rebuked over animal handling practices last year, it has emerged.
California-based Beef Packers Inc’s voluntary recall of 826,000 pounds (375,000 kg) of ground beef on 5 August has been linked to 28 salmonella-related incidences across nine states.
Yesterday, newly released records show the company was also slapped with an animal handling citation last year after US Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspectors found workers at the Fresno plant were using electric prods to cajole cattle through a narrow chute prior to slaughter. The visit, carried out in March 2008, followed in the wake of the biggest beef recall in US history that was linked to a separate Californian slaughter facility.
The company, a subsidiary of Cargill, was admonished after three cows were stunned when they refused to move “so that they could be pulled through the restrainer to be shackled, hung and bled," said the USDA report.
Under USDA regulations, use of a cattle prod is considered humane when used properly on walking animals. It is understood that dragging unconscious cattle could increase the risk of animals contracting salmonella and E.coli as cow hides can pick up bacteria from feces than can collect around the chute.
Letter of concern
Cargill Meat Solutions said, however, the presence of the inspectors had caused the animals to balk. The company lodged an appeal on the alleged violation and the USDA withdrew the citation. Beef Packers was instead sent a letter of concern from the agency.
Kansas State University's Beef Cattle Institute professor Dan Thomson priased Cargill's safety record and rejected claims that problems with humane handling were connected to contamination at the Fresno plant last week. He said it wasn’t clear that the cows had been dragged long distances across dirty floors and that they may have been moved only a few feet.
“A lot of animal hides get contaminated on farms, or in transport to the abattoir," he added.
So far, neither the USDA nor Cargill has issued details over the situation surrounding the recall last week.