E.Coli Kills Topps Meat Company

Seventeen days after Topps launched the second largest meat recall in U.S. history, the 67-year-old company announced that it’s going out of business. Topp’s COO told American Agriculturist:

“In one week we have gone from the largest U.S. manufacturer of frozen hamburgers to a company that cannot overcome the economic reality of a recall this large… We want to thank our loyal employees and customers who have supported us throughout the 67 years in which Topps Meat has been in business,” D’Urso said. “Topps has always prided itself on providing the utmost quality and safety and never had a recall in our history until now. This has been a shocking and sobering experience for everyone.”

According to the New York Times, Topps was “bought in 2003 by Strategic Investment and Holdings, an investment firm in Buffalo.” Reports of sickness from the tainted meat have come from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maine, Florida, Indiana, Ohio and New York.

“Meat Recall Forces Topps Out of Business” [American Agriculturist]
(Photo: Getty)

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  1. topgun says:

    One word: IRRADIATION.
    [www.sciencedaily.com]

  2. TechnoDestructo says:

    For real? Or are they just shutting down for a few months to be bought out by some shell corporation and restarted as the Potts Meat Company?

    It’d be nice if this served as a lesson. But I’m sure no one is going to learn anything from this.

  3. chili_dog says:

    I demand a federal bailout of Topps Meat Company. Why should Delta, Northwest, American & United airlines be the only companies that get free money.

    Come on let’s demand from members of congress this. And while we are at it, a freeze on payments for anyone with an ARM mortgage. Who’s with me?

  4. OnceWasCool says:

    “Irradiation of meats, fruits and vegetables will keep them fresh longer and ward off the threat of E. coliand other harmful bacteria, a University of Missouri-Rolla researcher says”

    Why not? This is a safe method of protecting me and my family. I am all for it!

  5. esqdork says:

    @topgun: To paraphrase Fast Food Nation–even if you irradiate feces-tainted meat, it’s still feces-tainted.

  6. Sonnymooks says:

    I do feel sorry for the people that are going to lose their jobs here and their families.

  7. timmus says:

    I have no sympathy for a company that won’t explain how fecal bacteria got in its meat.

    Maybe they should go back to printing baseball cards?

  8. timmus says:

    P.S. Preprocessed hamburger patties are disgusting. They’re like eating stringy leather.

  9. rhombopteryx says:

    @topgun:

    TWO WORDS: CLEAN MEAT

    I’m not against supplementing sanitation with irradiation, but it’s not a replacement for some minimum standards of cleanliness. If your food is so filthy that you have to irradiate it to avoid getting customers sick, perhaps you should be selling cleaner food.

  10. FullFlava says:

    @Sonnymooks:

    Yeah this pretty much sucks. I can’t even imagine working at a longstanding, large company, and in literally two weeks the whole thing goes from running smoothly to completely out of business. That’s an insanely short timeframe for a company to go down.

    And the sad reality is that it’s the everyday Joe and Jane workers who are going to be hit hard by this. I’m not really sure who you point the finger at in a food poisoning case like this, but it’s not them.

  11. Jerim says:

    @timmus:

    They have to gut the animals and sometimes the bowels are released onto the meat. All I am saying is that fecal bacteria isn’t a completely foreign substance. There are cleanup/inspection processes in place because it is a common occurrence.

  12. Shadowman615 says:

    @TechnoDestructo: And the lesson learned should be….?

  13. DadCooks says:

    Two solutions are called for here; (1) stop hiring illegals to work in the meat slaughter and packaging plants, AND (2) slow down the slaughter and packing lines so that contamination accidents can be properly cleaned up.

    Yes, irradiation would make our food supply virtually contagion free, but that is not a substitute for proper procedures and proper sanitary conditions in the first place. However, the pseudo-environmentalists will not allow irradiation (or any other useful power of the atom)!

    Yes, after a “thorough cleaning” the Topps plants will rise like a Phoenix with a new name and untouchable corporation.

  14. Shadowman615 says:

    @FullFlava: I’m not sure if there really is anyone to point the finger at. Food can get contaminated despite high standards, inspections, safety measures, etc. That’s just the nature of perishable items. I certainly haven’t read anything that would indicate negligence on Topps’s part.

  15. Red_Eye says:

    How does a company employing 87 people contaminate up to 21 million pounds of meat? And then just fold up and go away. Something smells really fishy.

  16. Red_Eye says:

    @DadCooks: @topgun: @oncewascool: Yee ha! Just wnat I need glow in the dark dead fecal bacteria in my beef!

    How about just keeping the crap out in the first place.

  17. FullFlava says:

    @DadCooks:

    (1) stop hiring illegals to work in the meat slaughter and packaging plants

    How is this relevant?

  18. Hanke says:

    @timmus: The two companies are unrelated.

  19. Maude Buttons says:

    @DadCooks: I’m having a hard time seeing how this is an immigration issue. There are incompetent U.S.-born citizens a-plenty.

  20. alfista says:

    I prefer veggie fecal matter on my veggie meat.

  21. dazette says:

    When possible buy freshly ground meat that has been ground AT the butcher shop or grocery meat counter that day. You can even choose a piece of chuck or round roast yourself and have them grind it up for you right then. Make your own hamburger patties. Really! you can. It starts out just like making a snowball. Cook the meat thoroughly and there will be no e-coli problems at your house. If you must buy the factory pre-packaged stuff, only use it for meatloaf, sloppy joes, chili or spaghetti sauce where it will be cooked at high heat for a long time. It will be safe then.

  22. Canadian Impostor says:

    @DadCooks: They’ll slow down the meat processing lines and hire legal american workers as soon as we all sign up to pay double for our meat.

    @MaudeButtons: Meat packing factories hire primarily illegal immigrants since illegals accept low wages for dangerous work and are easily pressured into not reporting accidents and injuries due to their illegal status.

  23. catnapped says:

    So how much is the company president getting for a bonus?

  24. FullFlava says:

    @Canadian Impostor:

    Meat packing factories hire primarily illegal immigrants since illegals accept low wages for dangerous work and are easily pressured into not reporting accidents and injuries due to their illegal status.

    Okay, I can see where you’re coming from here, and I can see how that would be a real problem.

  25. Amelie says:

    This says it all: “Topps was “bought in 2003 by Strategic Investment and Holdings, an investment firm in Buffalo.” I bet you anything the new owners implemented numerous “cost cutting” methods that benefited the bottom line at the expense of quality.

    One only has to look at what these firms do, when the take over the ownership of nursing homes.

  26. timmus says:

    @Hanke: I know.. .I couldn’t resist.

    @Jerim: sometimes the bowels are released onto the meat. You have hit the nail on the head. Why is this meat ending up on our dinner table? I know for a fact that a carcass can be gutted properly if the workers would just slow the hell down and watch what they’re doing. Unfortunately, I’m sure that’s not the reality in most slaughterhouses — it’s all about dollars and carcasses per hour.

  27. TechnoDestructo says:

    @Shadowman615:

    Not taking care to make sure that your meat doesn’t get contaminated (at least on a large scale) can cost more than taking that care.

  28. timmus says:

    This exemplifies everything that is wrong with the food supply: Cargill Meat Solutions. No need to click on it… the name says it all.

  29. legotech says:

    I guess I’m not the only one who thinks this going out of business bit is a way to avoid getting sued by the people they made sick. Any bets on how long it takes for a “new” company to open in the same building?

  30. axiomatic says:

    Did I just actually read that Topp’s COO basically gripe like a three year old that his company has to go under because they sold e. coli meats?

    Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out there Mr. Topp’s COO.

  31. Zombietime says:

    pwnt!

  32. Slothrob says:

    Irradiating meat is an expensive an unnecessary step, studies have shown that you can eliminate 90% of E.Coli by switching feed cattle to a diet of grass or hay for one week before they are sent to slaughter, and closer to 96% if you switch them two weeks prior.

  33. Luckie says:

    This is really sad. I guess I have the unpopular opinion, but I’m thinking of the everyday workers that are out a job, 99% of which probably had nothing to do with tainting the meat. No company should go under for one mistake. Do airlines go under every time they kill hundreds of passengers by not maintaining their planes properly? Of course not. Besides, if hamburger is properly cooked and you prevent cross contamination, the bacteria will be killed anyway. Did anyone bother go to check the homes of the affected and see if maybe they are sloppy pigs and that may have contributed to their illness? I’m not trying to victim blame, just saying that I don’t see how everything is 100% the fault of Topps. (Though I would agree this tragedy would have been less likely had it not been bought out, and had illegal workers not been used for processing.)

  34. kc2gvx says:

    I also feel for the people who will lose jobs that had nothing to do with the bad meat. Any large company like this going under does nothing good for our economy.

  35. Brian Gee says:

    @zouxou: I prefer my old people without fecal bacteria, too. :)

  36. bohemian says:

    This is a textbook example of what they pointed out in Fast Food Nation.

    Cutting corners to increase profits led to this. Large batch processing is why there was so much contamination. Processors need to start isolating product production. Instead of washing all of the spinach together or grinding all of the beef together they need to have smaller processing lines to isolate contamination. But that would cost money.

    Buy your ground beef from a small processor or get it where the butchers grind it on site.

  37. Anonymous says:

    @FullFlava:
    It is relevant.
    When I worked in the restaurant biz, I am ashamed to say my company had me employ several illegals. Some of them came from towns without plumbing and they used to wipe their butts with toilet paper and throw it in the trash.
    We had to TEACH THEM to wash their hands after they used the bathroom becuase up to that point, they hadn’t.
    Now, if you will excuse me, I’m off to vomit….

  38. Caroofikus says:

    @topgun: I agree: IRRADIATION — When I was in Afghanistan, a great deal of the food we were given was irradiated. Warm milk may seem strange, especially when the expiration date is 6 months away, but you never had to worry about the refrigerator going poopy.

  39. Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ゜-゜ノ) says:

    Wait wait wait, isn’t the meat USDA inspected? Shouldn’t they take any of the responsibility for passing tainted meat during the inspection process?

  40. asscore says:

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.

    Find a local butcher that does good business, and never worry about the quality of your meat again.

    USDA PRIME new york strip $15/lb
    Homemade brats $1 apiece

  41. Trai_Dep says:

    @Caroofikus: so you’re SERIOUSLY suggesting that the US of A should adopt the same food safety standards of a dystopian hell-hole run by religious extremists and a corporate kleptocracy? (Oh wait, that’s the US too). Err, the dystopian hell-hole where they wear silly hats?

    We should expect – no demand – that our food system meets France’s standards, don’t you think? Surely they can’t do something that we can’t?

  42. Anonymous says:

    True story. I worked at a distribution center for a VERY large fast food corporation. One hot summer the person that was supposed to check the refrigerated trailers missed one that had been dropped on the “back forty” for three days straight. The refrigeration unit had quit at some point. It was filled with 40,000 pounds of frozen beef patties. When they discovered it, blood was literally running under the trailer doors – I witnessed this. They repaired the unit and refroze the beef. They sent it back to the processor and they tested it for bacteria levels, etc. Decided it was “OK” and gradually mixed the “OK” patties back into other batches that were being processed and shipped it back to be sold. Nothing going on at the Topps plant would surprise me – with “HACCP” processes in place at these plants the public is really at risk.

  43. humphrmi says:

    This is quite an argument for eating Kosher meat. Cows are quickly and (I’m told) painlessly killed and all of the bodily fluids are drained, then the meat is harvested from the front of the cow. Then it’s soaked in salt water. Nothing is used behind the sciatica nerve. Sure, it’s an old biblical thing, and yes Kosher meat isn’t as tasty as treif meat, but that’s a small price to pay for health. Also, the rules of Kosher mandate a certain level of cleanliness in the meat processing plants, and those plants also have an extra layer of inspection which I’m told is fairly thorough.

  44. FullFlava says:

    @humphrmi:

    Yeah, but I’d say your chances are about the same regardless of whether it’s “kosher” or not. I don’t recommend you watch the videos. I’m not a vegetarian or a PETA freak, but some sick shit goes down even at “kosher” slaughterhouses.

  45. @Applekid: Wait wait wait, isn’t the meat USDA inspected? Shouldn’t they take any of the responsibility for passing tainted meat during the inspection process?

    This is what I’m wondering as well. As the guy at my neighborhood UPS store said today (when the Topps story appeared on CNN on their TV monitor), they had an FDA inspector who was supposed to catch this stuff–so what happens to him? Is he reassigned to another factory? Fired? Fined? Isn’t this what he’s paid to catch?

  46. appleface says:

    @fejjnagaf: This isn’t just an Immigrant issue. I worked in a large food processing facility part-time. I saw many people who were Caucasian U.S. Citizens that used the rest room and returned to work without washing their hands.

    These companies have policies and procedures in place to “ensure” food safety, but they cannot police all the employees all the time. A persons nationality or social status is not the issue, lack of proper and extensive training is the issue.

  47. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    Topps was not in charge of slaughter, just in charge of processing. That basically means they didn’t have a handle on the whole process and they might well have got a batch of tainted meat that slipped by their own quality control.

    This failure to assure live-animal-to-consumer safety is the main reason I’m a vegetarian (unless I know the full history of the animal I’m eating, which is in practice impossible for a city chick to do).

  48. tadowguy says:

    Will this make my 1987 Topps complete set worth more?

  49. Anonymous says:

    A more apparent side effect of the race-to-the-bottom circle of cheaper products need faster working lower paid employees – that need ever cheaper products. Real butchers, or at least professional meat processors that aren’t in fear of loosing their jobs for doing it right and/or speaking up when something isn’t right probably would raise the cost of meat. But, “real” pay and better jobs across the board means that there are more, and better, jobs for Americans that can afford safety and quality. They lost a company trying to save cents and you kids and grand-kids will loose any chance of having a profession that doesnt require an I.Q. of 120 and at least 4 years of college debt. IF they don’t die of E Coli first.

  50. lincolnparadox says:

    @Caroofikus: Irradiation to prevent bacterial/fungal growth is a great idea. In milk, dry or liquid, a bit of x-ray ionizing radiation kills all the bugs and doesn’t effect the product.

    However, the E.coli contamination in this situation is different than milk or even vegatable contamination. For one, these bacterial produce nasty, shiga-like toxins that can do a number of nasty things (from loose stools to kidney failure). These toxins are not heat-stable, so cooking yer burgers to an internal temperature of 160F (70C) will destroy bacteria and toxin. Radiation would work on a large piece of meat, killing all bacteria on the surface, but ground meat would have to be irradiated before it was ground. Otherwise, the bacteria would get pushed into the nooks and crannies of the grind, and be protected from the treatment.

    My advice is: a) don’t buy pre-packaged ground meat and b) ask your butcher to grind your meat from a whole piece. If you want some meat for burgers, buy a nice piece of the top boneless sirloin, tri-tip, or pin bone steak and have your butcher grind it in front of you. It will taste just better, be safer and cost about the same.

  51. pyloff says:

    Wow I should plug that book I talked about before, but I won’t. I’m just gonna eat up on my frozen meat patties.

  52. ViperBorg says:

    @chili_dog: You got my vote.