How Topps Hamburger Overproduced Themselves Out Of Business

The demand for frozen hamburger patties is overwhelming! Shoppers just can’t get enough of cheap frozen hamburgers.

This summer, Topps meats struggled to keep pace with orders from Walmart and other retailers and, in so doing, neglected food safety procedures. Now they’re out of business, but the larger problem isn’t. There were 16 beef-related e. coli recalls this year, says the NYT.

That is a sharp increase from 2005 and 2006, and the resurgence of the pathogen raises questions about whether the Agriculture Department has given the meat industry too much leeway to police itself.

“We’re beginning to feel that the 2002 guidelines have not been enacted to the maximum,” Dr. Richard A. Raymond, the Agriculture Department’s under secretary for food safety, said in an interview in Washington

Not only did Topps cut the required e. coli testing from once a month to three times a year, it mixed tested and untested meat (both foreign and domestic) in its grinders, according to federal investigators. (Foreign meat doesn’t legally require e. coli testing because e. coli isn’t often found in imported meat.)

Federal investigators found that three different lots of hamburger meat were tainted with E. coli. Moreover, they said, the company’s record keeping was so poor they could not rule out contamination of other lots.

Batches that had been tested by suppliers were mixed with those that were not, officials said. Untested boxes from the freezer were tossed in with the daily grind, as were untested scraps from the plant’s steak line.

To be safe, the regulators finally urged the company to recall a full year’s worth of production, or 21.7 million pounds. “They couldn’t say, ‘This started two months ago,'” said Kenneth E. Petersen, assistant administrator of field operations for the Agriculture Department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. “Because they couldn’t prove it, we went back a whole year.”

Now, as the above photo from the NYT shows, retailers are trying to distance themselves from Topps.

Many Red Flags Preceded a Recall of Hamburger [NYT]
(Photo:Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times)