Whole Foods beef part of massive recall

Another day, another E. coli recall from the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service. This time the recall is for 1.2 million pounds of "primal cuts, subprimal cuts and boxed beef" packed by Nebraska Beef in Omaha, Nebraska, bringing Nebraska's bad beef total to a whopping 6.5 million pounds. Primal cuts are large sections of beef like the chuck (shoulder) and round (rump), while subprimal cuts are smaller divisions, like the blade and the arm section of the chuck that supermarkets often finish processing themselves. "Boxed beef" refers to shrink-wrapped, case-ready cuts and ground beef of the kind you're used to seeing at the supermarket.

"So what?" I can just hear you yawning. "I don't buy no stinking feedlot beef."

Well the beef in question this time is from Coleman Natural Beef, which supplies "natural" and organic beef to Whole Foods, among other retailers. (Although in most cases the "natural" label only means minimally processed, Coleman says that its beef is hormone- and antibiotic-free and raised in the open air in a vegetarian diet.)

Awake now? Heading to the fridge perhaps?

According to the Boston Globe, seven E. coli cases from last month have been linked to ground beef sold at Whole Foods AFTER the first, preliminary July 3 recall from Nebraska Beef, which did not identify any of the beef as being sold under the Coleman brand. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health has advised consumers not to eat any fresh ground-beef products purchased from a Whole Foods store from June 2 to Aug. 6. A quick Google reveals that Whole Foods in other states (like this one in Santa Monica, CA) also carry the beef. Altogether, the FSIS website reports, 31 cases in 12 states and Canada have been identified as linked to the investigation.

Supposedly, as Elanor reported here, the USDA was going to start reporting the names of retail establishments involved in Class I recalls like this one as of August. So where is the list? In that announcement, the USDA did give itself a 3- to 10-business-day window after a recall to post the names. Because apparently, there's no rush or anything. (I mean, business days?)

Coleman Natural Foods was in the process of selling off Coleman Natural Beef to Meyer Natural Angus as of April (PDF) to focus on its other businesses, including natural poultry (it owns the Rocky and Rosie brands of chicken also sold at Whole Foods), pork, and prepared foods. As far as I can tell the deal has not yet closed. Wonder if this will put a damper on things.

Note that we have updated the Hamburger Threat Level.

12 Responsesto “Whole Foods beef part of massive recall”

  1. Gay S says:

    It's not only foods sold to Whole Foods that may be contaminated. On Long Island, one of the Whole Foods stores has had some major problems. The septic system has overflowed into the store. The store has remained open even when employees were mopping up the overflow in while people are shopping. The problems aren't resolved by the landlord Kimco Realty.

  2. Pat Anderson says:

    Wow. Yet more reasons to know your local butcher who is buying from local farms.

  3. Jennifer says:

    Do you know if this includes the grass-fed beef sold at Whole Foods markets, or just the "organic" beef??

  4. Joe says:

    This is pretty disturbing. Coleman Natural was one of the more reputable meat producers in the US; I believe that Marion Nestle mentions them in "What to Eat."
    To answer Jennifer's question... the "grass-fed" beef is probably not included because I believe it is sourced from different producers. (It is in Northern CA.) However, your best bet is to ask the butcher. They should be able to tell you where Whole Foods got the meat.

  5. Bonnie P. says:

    Joe: Coleman can still be a reputable producer. Nebraska Beef -- the slaughterhouse, I may not have made that clear -- is obviously to blame, as they are implicated in the much larger E. coli outbreak. It doesn't really matter how well the cattle were raised if an intestine gets nicked during the gutting, and the resulting eruption of fecal matter is not fully contained from contaminating that and other carcasses. (And I just spent all of Thursday with a "knackerman" making his rounds so I now know more about this whole industry than I would like!)

    Jennifer: Coleman does not do grass-fed beef. Whatever kind WF was selling was probably unlikely to have gone through Nebraska Beef slaughterhouse, but as it's not impossible I'd ask the butcher anyway.

  6. FM Marx says:

    What is not noted? The single fact that is causing this health problem--factory farming and feeding farm animals a diet that is against nature. Whole Foods has become a corporate retail food chain which has left it's missionary statement in the dust. The only concern is profits, just look at what they are selling; the average consumer has no understanding and believes the labels; where is the transparency?

  7. Joe says:

    More information on this... If you're in Northern CA, it looks like you're safe: http://www.mercurynews.com/ci_10159446?source=rss
    Jennifer: I stand corrected; the story is actually very complicated. Coleman Natural has a reputation for treating animals better than most producers. This incident may really be the slaughterhouse's fault and not Coleman's. However, I'd argue that if they chose to use a slaughterhouse whose practices left their products susceptible to contamination, then Coleman Natural is to blame. On the other hand, I'm not really sure how much choice they have; I know very little about the market for outsourcing animal slaughtering/butchering/packaging, but suspect that they were forced to choose the least of several evils. I think it's probably best to judge Coleman based on how they react to this event.

  8. Expat Chef says:

    Whole Foods does allow its "natural" beef to be in feed lot for 30 percent of the life of the cattle. Check their standards. Grain is the problem, of course, and the beef are grain fed. Best bet is to know how the beef are raised (grass fed is safest) and buy direct from the farmer. Frightening, huh? But people have to stop expecting a halo around everything Whole Foods. Grain fed beef are the problem, slaughterhouses are a nightmare, and feedlots are pretty cruel in general.

  9. Most of the meat in our chain natural foods stores is still factory farmed.  Rosie and Rocky Chicken are a perfect example- go to their website where you will not see a single picture of a live chicken nor a detailed description of how they are raised.  Organic beef can be raised in a feedlot for a third of their life, natural beef means absolutely nothing since it has nothing to do with the actual production of the animal, and "free-range" chickens can be raised in huge warehouses with 30,000 birds.  Consumers are sadly being duped and Whole Foods and other retailers need to step up to the plate and start buying from smaller-scale, local ranchers and producers where they can actually visit the farms and verify their production methods.  As for the lack of decent slaughterhouses, that is a national problem that deserves greater attention.

  10. sam says:

    Coleman Natural sold off the beef operation to Meyer Natural Angus, but allowed Meyer to use the Coleman name for a year. Now Coleman Natural is saying, "this meat ain't from us." More details on this tangled mess over at ChewsWise.

  11. Rosie is right.  The key words for Coleman used; "raised in the open air in a vegetarian diet" do not preclude feedlots.  So far, at least, most major brands have not found a way to produce the beef consumers demand at the price most consumers are will willing to pay without concentrating the feeding operations in CAFOs.
    (and don't get me started on "vegetarian-fed cage-free chickens!)

  12. Sorry about that--Rebecca (not Rosie the chicken) is right...