The recall of nearly 19 million pounds of fresh and frozen ground beef was announced by the US Agriculture Department yesterday amid concerns about potential contamination with a deadly bacteria at a ConAgra plant in Colorado.
The recall by the nation's second biggest food producer comes after at least 19 people, mainly in Colorado, fell ill with E.coli, the department said. The bacteria can cause acute illness and even death.
Ann Veneman, the US agriculture secretary, has been criticised for responding too slowly to reports of illnesses linked to the plant at Greeley, Colorado. Food testers at the Agriculture Department first learned of the contamination in mid-June but did not inform the company until more than a week later.
Nelson said he did not expect the recall to have a significant effect on ConAgra, which in May agreed to sell a majority stake in the Greeley meat processing plant to Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst, the Texas-based private equity group. The $1.14 billion (€1.39bn) sale had been expected to close in August. "It might make the buyer blush a bit and try to negotiate a different price given the risk, or work to ensure that ConAgra assumes any liability from this," said Nelson.
Two weeks ago, consumer groups, including the American Public Health Association and the Consumer Federation of America, called on the Agriculture Department to test raw beef carcasses earlier in the production process.