Tainted Meat? USDA Will Tell You. Some Day.

One more reason to look your butcher in the face: nobody is out there protecting you from tainted meat.

On September 25, the UD Department of Agriculture recalled 331,000 pounds of hamburger from the Topps Meat Company; last week they expanded the recall to 21.7 million pounds, because of contamination of E coli bacteria, which can cause kidney failure and death. First victim? July 5. Next? August 17. Link to Topps meat: September 7. First time the USDA gets together to discuss? September 25, 18 days later. Nothing like jumping into action to protect America's food supply.

"We gather information from various sources, including our public health partners in the states," said David Goldman, assistant administrator of the Office of Public Health at USDA's inspection service. "Once we have enough information that we have a basis for taking action, then we convene a group of people here in the agency to consider taking that action—in this case, take it to the company and request a recall. "There are many steps along the way to get to that point."

Except, according to the Chicago Tribune, all of those steps were taken weeks earlier. The Tribune continues:

The USDA and Food and Drug Administration have been harshly criticized recently in Congress and by food safety groups for their slow responses to food-borne illnesses and recalls.

Neither agency has the legal authority to force food manufacturers to conduct recalls, but they can recommend a recall. USDA has the authority to remove items from store shelves if a company refuses to conduct a recall that the agency deems necessary.

Several members of Congress have offered legislation that would give the USDA and FDA the legal authority to order recalls. One of them, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), introduced a bill on Monday to bolster USDA's recall ability, saying that, "When something does go wrong, USDA needs to be able to act and act quickly. Neither consumers nor producers are helped by foot-dragging." ::Chicago Tribune