Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Food Poisoning Health Center

Font Size
A
A
A

Beef Recall FAQ

What You Need to Know About the Biggest U.S. Beef Recall
By
WebMD Health News

Feb. 18, 2008 -- Americans already have eaten most of the 143.4 million pounds of beef involved in this week's biggest-ever U.S. meat recall.

Yet the U.S. Department of Agriculture says consumers are at little risk -- even if they did eat the meat.

It's a confusing issue. Here's WebMD's guide to what's going on.

Exactly what meat products were involved? Are they still in stores?

Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Co. of Chico, Calif., slaughters cattle and uses them to produce raw and frozen beef products ranging from hamburger meat to beef bile. The recalled beef includes all products made by this company over the two-year period from Feb. 1, 2006, to Feb. 2, 2008, when the USDA suspended plant operations.

During those two years, Hallmark/Westland produced 143,383,823 pounds of beef products. All of it has been recalled.

Since October 2006, 37 million pounds of this beef went to federal school lunch programs and other domestic assistance programs such as the Emergency Food Assistance Program and the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations.

It is not yet clear where the rest of the beef was sold. However, USDA officials believe most of the beef already has been consumed, as most of it is a raw beef product with a very brief shelf life.

Exact product descriptions can be viewed in a document at the USDA web site. All Westland products carry the company's federal establishment number -- EST 336 -- as well as the packing date.

Why does the USDA say the risk is low?

The risk is low because no contaminated or infected beef has been found and because no human illnesses have been linked to the recalled beef.

Why was the beef recalled?

According to the USDA, Hallmark/Westland voluntarily recalled the products because of allegations that the company failed to properly inspect cattle prior to slaughter.

A video released by the Humane Society of the United States vividly documents inhumane treatment of cattle at the Hallmark/Westland facility. It showed cows that were unable to walk being repeatedly shocked, sprayed in the nose with high-pressure hoses, and shoved with forklifts in order to make them stand.

Since July 2007, U.S. food regulations say cattle unable to stand on their own ("downer" cattle) may not be used as food unless they are inspected and found to be healthy except for acute injuries, such as a broken leg, that make them unable to walk.

These regulations were put in place to ensure that animals infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy -- BSE or mad cow disease -- did not enter the food supply.

The USDA says there's evidence that Hallmark/Westland has been violating this rule since Feb. 1, 2006. In a statement posted on the Westland web site, Steve Mendell, president of Westland Meat Co., says his company has conducted all required inspections and has taken "swift action" regarding two employees shown in the Humane Society video (local authorities have charged the two employees with felony animal cruelty).

Today on WebMD

turkey
Slideshow
7 Ways To Prevent Foodborne Illness
Video
 
Salmonella (Generic)
Slideshow
Is It Really Food Poisoning
Feature
 
Are Some Eggs Safer Than Others
Feature
Do You Need To Wash Bagged Salads
Video
 
Clean Your Fridge For Food Safety
Feature
Organic Food Slideshow
Slideshow
 

Explore our newly expanded FDA Center on WebMD for timely information on food safety, allergies, diabetes, vitamins & supplements, and more!

How The FDA Protects Food Safety
Slideshow
The Dangers Of E Coli
Video
 
Secrets Of Safe Grilling
Video
How Long Can You Keep Condiments
Tool
 

WebMD Special Sections