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Hamburger plant shut down

Meat plant workers

Recall rises to 25 million pounds

August 21, 1997
Web posted at: 4:38 p.m. EDT (2038 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A Nebraska beef processing plant has shut down and 25 million pounds of hamburger it produced since early June will be immediately recalled, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman announced Thursday.

The plant had produced hamburger that had been contaminated with potentially deadly E. coli bacteria.

Hudson Foods agreed to voluntarily take the actions at the request of federal food safety inspectors.

Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman explains the USDA action
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468K/43 sec. AIFF or WAV sound

Glickman said the plant would remain closed "until they have adopted far more stringent safety standards that we have specifically laid out for them."

He said "these are non-negotiable proposals. The plant will not reopen until they are all met."

Last week, 1.2 million pounds of hamburger patties produced at the Hudson plant in Columbus, Nebraska, were recalled by the company. The agriculture department then sent inspectors to evaluate the facility.

USDA Consumer Hotline:  1-800-535-4555; Hudson Foods Consumer Hotline:  1-800-447-2670

Federal officials say the reason for the addition recall and shutdown is that Hudson took leftover raw materials from one day's production and used them in the next day's production.

From company records, inspectors could not determine if materials used during a period in early June, when the E. coli-laden patties are believed to have come out of the plant, might have found their way into subsequent production days. So the decision was made to close the plant, recall the hamburger and destroy all hamburger on hand at the plant.

As secretary of agriculture, Glickman does not have the legal authority to order the plant closed. But he could indirectly close it the by withdrawing federal inspectors from the facility, which would render Hudson unable to legally ship its product.

"If necessary, I will do that to halt operations, until I am comfortable telling the American people that this food is safe," he said.

Hudson meat plant

The contaminated beef traced to the Hudson plant in Columbus has been linked to less than 20 illnesses, Glickman said. The compares to more than 700 E. coli-related cases during an outbreak in the Pacific Northwest in 1993, after which federal food inspection procedures were strengthened.

"All the evidence at this point indicates that we have contained the outbreak," he said. "That is a remarkable achievement. Given the quantities of food, it certainly could have been far worse."

Glickman also said he would press Congress to give him the authority, as agriculture secretary, to order recalls of contaminated products and assess civil fines against processors for putting contaminated products on the market.

CNN's Eugenia Halsey on the scope of the recall
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94K/8 sec. AIFF or WAV sound

"Most folks would be shocked to know that industry, and not federal food safety experts, ultimately make the decision as to whether or not food is recalled when the public's safety is compromised," Glickman said.

"There's really no question that the American people want government doing everything it can to insure that the food that is put on the table is safe."

E. coli bacteria-tainted hamburgers can cause serious illness and death if eaten without being properly cooked. USDA guidelines say that ground beef should be cooked until well done at 160 degrees Fahrenheit.

 
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