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USDA conducting in-depth inspection at beef plant

ground beef

Agency 'sending signal' to industry

August 17, 1997
Web posted at: 7:37 p.m. EDT (2337 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture will conduct an extensive inspection of a Nebraska beef processing plant to find the source of E. coli contamination that led to the recall of 1.2 million pounds of hamburger last week.

"I've sent the SWAT team out to this particular plant because I want to send a signal throughout the industry that we will not tolerate practices which are incompatible with public health," said Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman Sunday on CNN's "Late Edition with Frank Sesno."

Agriculture inspectors were at the Hudson Foods plant in Columbus, Nebraska, Sunday. Glickman's "SWAT team," consisting of a dozen more inspectors, was on its way. Glickman said inspectors would be examining plant records and meat processing procedures.

James Hudson, the president and chairman of Hudson Foods, said the company welcomes the USDA's scrutiny. He said the company has cooperated fully with the USDA.

"We're not afraid of what they will find," Hudson said, adding the company plans its own "full and aggressive" investigation to determine the source of the problem.

Hudson plant

Company 'baffled' by E. coli source

The Hudson hamburger patties, processed at the plant during the first week of June, were recalled because they were believed to be tainted with E. coli bacteria, which could cause illness or death if the hamburger isn't thoroughly cooked.

Fifteen people are believed to have become ill from the patties, all in Colorado. None became seriously ill.

"We're still baffled as to where it came from," Hudson said Sunday, speaking during a telephone press conference from the company's Arkansas headquarters.

"It may have come from outside purchases," Hudson said. "It may have originated in the plant, but we don't think so."

He said the company has purchased beef from other countries in the past, but all of the beef in the plant in June came from the United States.

Hudson had earlier large meat recall

E. coli appears naturally in the intestines of cattle. If intestinal material comes into contact with meat during processing, the meat can become contaminated.

The recall ordered last week is believed to be the largest ever in the United States. Hudson Foods was also responsible for the previous largest meat recall, in 1995, when small pieces of bone were found in ground turkey meat.

Hudson said the two recalls were unrelated. Said Glickman, "We have to conduct an investigation to determine if there is a pattern or not."

USDA investigators will also being trying to determine why Hudson initially estimated the amount of potentially-tainted beef at 20,000 pounds, instead of 1.2 million pounds determined by the government.

Hudson officials say the number of patties subjected to recall went up dramatically because, at first, it included only the batches of meat suspected of having an E. coli problem. It was later expanded to all meant produced at the plant during the first week in June.

The company says it gave the USDA the best original estimate it could at the time.

Correspondent Eugenia Halsey and Reuters contributed to this report.

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