Whole Foods Recalls Previously Recalled Meat. What?

Whole Foods apparently never got that June memo to chuck Nebraska Beef contaminated with E. coli. The posh-man’s bodega announced yesterday that they are recalling the previously-recalled beef, which Whole Foods sold between June 2 and August 6. The contaminated beef has popped up in 24 states and sickened 49 people. Noted food safety litigator Bill Marler shows us that being a lawyer can be fun by posing six amusingly litigious questions for Whole Foods…

•1) Why was Whole Foods selling meat that was supposed to be recalled?
•2) Why was Whole Foods buying meat from Nebraska Beef Ltd., in the first place?

Whole Foods website is filled with all sorts of promises. Here is one that seemed to be a bit ignored:

Products – Our Quality Standards

We carry natural and organic products because we believe that food in its purest state — unadulterated by artificial additives, sweeteners, colorings, and preservatives — is the best tasting and most nutritious food available.

Our business is to sell the highest quality foods we can find at the most competitive prices possible. We evaluate quality in terms of nutrition, freshness, appearance, and taste. Our search for quality is a never-ending process involving the careful judgment of buyers throughout the company.

Here are some other questions for Whole Foods (after they answer the first two):

  • 1) Were you aware of Nebraska Beef’s litigation history against the USDA in 2003 and a church in upstate Minnesota in 2007?
  • 2) Had you ever reviewed Nebraska Beef’s Non-compliance Reports?
  • 3) Had you ever visited the Nebraska Beef plant?
  • 4) After being linked to an E. coli outbreak in California in 2006, what safety measures did Whole Foods employ?

The bacterial beef was sold in: Alabama, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Washington D. C.

Consumers can return to Whole Foods with a receipt or beef packaging for a full refund. For more information, call (512) 542-0878. While on hold, take a moment to wonder if you ever cook your meat to 160 degrees.

Whole Foods E. coli cases Traced to Nebraska Beef Ltd., Meat? [Marler Blog]
Whole Foods recalling possible E. coli contaminated beef [AP]
PREVIOUSLY: More Beef Recalled For E. Coli
(AP Photo/Harry Cabluck)


Edit Your Comment

  1. B says:

    It may be E. Coli, but it’s 100% organic E. Coli.

  2. Nick1693 says:

    “We carry natural and organic products because we believe that food in its purest state – unadulterated by artificial additives, sweeteners, colorings, and preservatives – is the best tasting and most nutritious food available.”

    Poop is:
    1. Natural and organic
    2. Unadulterated by artificial additives, sweeteners, colorings, and preservatives

  3. nicemarmot617 says:

    What? That doesn’t even make sense – I shop at Whole Foods and have never seen this brand in their stores – usually their meat comes from just a few brands.

  4. bostonmike says:

    You’ve never seen Coleman beef in Whole Foods?

  5. Dobernala says:

    3. Not food.

  6. timmus says:

    I want to know what commercial factory beef is doing in Whole Foods. We were under the impression, too, that their meat is higher quality than the stuff sold in Wal-Mart and Kroger.

  7. James Marino says:

    What do you think the chances are that Whole Foods’ CEO John Mackey would log in to give us his views… under his own name, of course.

  8. Ubermunch says:

    Folks… I hate to break it to you… Although it may have different brands and goals, Whole Foods is a big retail grocery store chain and as such acts like one. I have a hard time when folk’s try to cast them as a big Mom and Pop meets John Boy Walton place. Look around and see the details… the pricing schemes… the layout and shelved products… and clearly the same meat issues as a local Food Lion or Aldis (worse maybe according to this post).

    Lesson? Big retail grocery chains act/perfom like big retail grocery chains… They all have a sleazy side and that includes huggable favorites like Whole Foods and Harris Teeters. The only place that even comes close to performing the juggle is Trader Joe’s, and you *still* have to read all the ingredients and check for freshness carefully. Many’s the time I’ve seen molded and expired products at TJs. And there are other (boring) stories to tell. Not that they aren’t my favorite grocery chain experience, but you still have to watch your figurative ass at TJs.

    Here’s my (east coast regional) list of the big chains in order of preference (including those I can’t shop at every day):

    1) Trader Joe’s
    2) Harris Teeters
    3) Balducci’s
    4) (t) Giant
    4) (t) Whole Foods
    4) (t) Safeway
    5) Super Fresh
    6) Shopper Food Warehouse
    7) (t) Food Lion
    7) (t) Aldis

    Unfortunately… None of these stores cover all our needs. I go to a large Korean market for fish, spices, produce. I even have a phrasebook to help order at the fish counter! Costco covers a lot of paper products. TJs is super close and has a lot of good, relatively unprocessed, stuff. We’re there a LOT. And Giant has a huge place that also has beer and wine. Safeway, at least our local one, has a great meat department and nice butcher who will work with you on cutting your request and it’s within walking distance. Sometimes I swing into Aldis for canned stuff because it’s one the way home. I never go to Shoppers Food Warehouse even though it’s close. I just don’t like the place. It’s kind of nasty. Same thing’s true with Aldi’s but I don’t seem to mind it as much. Well… except for the homeless guy who panhandles the parking lot.

    Thankfully, I live less than 5-8 miles from all these places and don’t really have to make special trips. Man… I don’t know how folks put up with just one retail grocery choice! I’d go nuts!

  9. sketchy says:

    @Ubermunch: UberConsumer Much?

    Whole Foods is, as previously stated, not a ‘Mom and Pop’ alternative for food. They are the ‘Apple’ of retail food, smaller maybe, but masters of positioning and marketing. They appeal to the group who sees themselves as ‘conscientious consumers’, a group willing to pay more to feel as though they are making a difference, but unwilling to change to actually make a difference.

  10. crescentia says:

    Whole Food charges a ton of money for food that you can get cheaper from a local co-op. Upper middle class/wealthy shoppers all over the US are having panic attacks right now probably.

    By the way…..I like Aldi’s. $50.00 a week for food vs. 150.00? Yep….I’ll stick with Alid’s.

  11. rpm773 says:

    Whole Foods apparently never got that June memo to chuck Nebraska Beef

    Ha! I get it!

  12. Ubermunch says:


    Whole Foods is, as previously stated, not a ‘Mom and Pop’ alternative for food.

    I never said they were… read my post. I said they were quite the opposite.

    They are the ‘Apple’ of retail food, smaller maybe, but masters of positioning and marketing.

    Bah! Their schtick is to make you think they are the “apple” of retail grocery when really they are just another grocery chain all gussied up and full o’ slogans. You may be drinking the Whole Foods Kool-Aid (with 100% organic fruit juices) but I am there in their store a fair amount and know what I see. I also keep up on the the large amount of “healthy” products that have been tainted recently. Here’s just the quick list (which includes a listeria recall that’s scary stuff. Listeria can *kill* you a lot better than most):

    July 25, 2008 –

    Whole Foods Market is voluntarily removing from its shelves 365 Organic Everyday Value Ground Ginger. Products have been shown to contain trace amounts of a pesticide residue.

    May 25th 2007 –

    Whole Foods Market Inc., the largest U.S. natural-foods grocer, is recalling sesame seed butter over possible contamination with salmonella, three months after ConAgra Foods Inc. recalled tainted peanut butter.

    May 2, 2007 –

    The Colorado State Health Department is recalling ready to eat turkey products sold at Whole Foods. The items are from the Diestel Turkey Ranch. The recall is for 6- to 7-pound packages of turkey breasts in a variety of flavors. It also includes the one-pound packages of uncured turkey breast with pastrami seasoning.

    August 16, 2007 –

    Whole Foods announces a recall of 12,900 pounds of frozen turkey products produced by of Ian’s Natural Foods, a Revere, Mass., establishment, because they may contain nonfat milk, a known allergen, which is not stated on the label.

    December 21, 2007 –

    Whole Foods Market is expanding the recall of the 365 Organic Everyday Value Swiss Milk Chocolate Bars with Rice Crisps with a Best If Used By date of 11/21/07, to include all varieties and all lots of chocolate bars with a Best If Used By date prior to 11/08/09.

    January 9, 2006 –

    Whole Foods Market is recalling Whole Catch Lemon Pepper Garlic Hot Smoked Trout because it has the potential to be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, an organism which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Listeria infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women.

    May 3, 2005 –

    Natural foods retailer Whole Foods Market is named in a lawsuit filed by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), charging that it sells a deceptively labeled fungus-based meat substitute manufactured by Quorn Foods, also named in the suit. CSPI says more lawsuits will follow.

    May 27, 2004 –

    Whole Foods Market of Austin, Texas is conducting a voluntary recall on its distribution of raw whole or diced almonds packaged under the name Whole Food Market because this product has the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella Enteritidis. The recalled almonds were packed in clear, rectangular plastic containers, sold by weight, labeled “almonds whole natural” and “diced raw almonds” under the Whole Foods Market brand. They were also available in self-service gravity-feed bulk bins.

    Face it… Whole Foods has a long history of doing business with dubious food processors and the frequent recalls of tainted products (and deceptive labeling lawsuits) are the symptoms of corporate corner cutting and/or poor sub-tier vendor oversight. I guess I wouldn’t mind the issues so much if they weren’t pawning themselves off a some wholesome, caring alternative to a run-of-the-mill Safeway or Giant.

    Mind you… I’m not saying Whole Foods is BAD, it’s just the IMO they are not so special as to warrant any kind of shopping loyalty. With all their big talk I expect a lot more when I inspect a $4.99 pack of blueberries that is moldy. Hell… I can get moldy berries at Safeway and Food Lion for a lot less! But it wouldn’t be organic mold I guess.

  13. laserjobs says:

    Whole Foods has been quietly moving to cheaper conventional foods and hoping thier customers do not notice. There is nothing special about Whole Foods anymore compared to any other grocery store.

  14. rpm773 says:

    I find it amusing when people call Whole Foods “Whole Paycheck”. Maybe if the people who frequent Whole Foods searched a little harder, they could find “Half Paycheck” or “Quarter Paycheck” a couple more miles down the road.

  15. Dobernala says:

    @laserjobs: Recalled beef aside, Whole Foods does have something I appreciate: their unacceptable ingredients list.

    When I am shopping at a regular grocery store, I have to be very mindful of the products I buy. They’re full of junk. It wont kill you (at least right away!), but I’d rather not put some of thst stuff in my body. Whole Foods makes it easy by just not selling that garbage and generally selling better quality food.

    I’m sure there are other stores that do nearly as well, but Whole Foods is the only place around here that I know of that I can find the higher quality products.

  16. MaliBoo Radley says:

    We have a Whole Foods here in Plano, but I never shop there. Most often, for everday things, I hit the Tom Thumb or Kroger. The benefit of being a outlaw in a rich town is the supernice grocery stores. For meat, I hit Sprouts or Central Market. Both have Whole Foods like qualities, but are cheaper and more fun to shop at. Central Market is actually owned by HEB, but you’d never know it when your shopping there. Very nice and mellow atmosphere.

    Whole Foods, all in all, is kind of a crappy place to shop. Most of their produce isn’t even organic. Lame!

  17. MBZ321 says:

    You people really need to get a Wegmans.. :P

  18. Henrythoreau says:

    I’ve never understood how Whole Foods managed to seem both progressive but also attract the wealthy. In addition, they are not a union-friendly store. Yet still the lefty parents of San Francisco (I include myself in this group) flock to this store and its overpriced goods like moths to a flame.

    When I enter the store, I usually enter a fugue state of delight–overwhelmed by the shiny produce and hip music. But then after five minutes, I’ve had enough of the happy clerks, shiny Pilates mat-carrying customers and wish the revolution would start in aisle six.

  19. FiftyFourFortyOrFight says:

    In my neck of the woods, where Shaw’s has a near-monopoly in some areas, Whole Foods is consistenly *cheaper* on many ordinary grocery items (fruit juice, seltzer, cereal, etc.). I’ve checked this on multiple occasions because I didn’t believe it at first, but it’s been true for more than a year. Yes, the meat and produce at Whole Foods are more expensive but in general this is reflected in better quality and selection. The buyer gets to choose what they want to pay for.

    And re. Ubermunch’s laundry list of eight food recalls over a four-year period….c’mon, they’re selling more than $6 billion worth of groceries every year! You can’t sell food on that scale and not have some issues, and eight in four years ain’t bad at all. The real question is how active are they in preventing it, and how well do they respond when something happens. In my experience, they do a decent job on both counts.

    Look – Whole Foods is not a local co-op or farm stand or mom and pop market or “we’re the cheapest” food store. They’re a big multi-billion supermarket corporation positioned at the upper end of the market. They’re not perfect, but the fact is that they provide wide access to high-quality food that wasn’t so easy to find a few years ago, and they have forced the mainstream supermarkets to start selling things like naturally raised meats, organic produce, and packaged foods that aren’t full of high fructose corn syrup. That’s a lot better record than most companies.

  20. Canino says:

    This is why I only buy inorganic meat.

    Oh man I love reusing that line over and over.

  21. jonworld says:

    Whole Foods is a load of B.S. They call all their stuff “organic” and “natural”, but in reality, that is not near the truth. If you look carefully in their store, most of their produce, meat, etc. is labeled as “organic”, “progressive” or “conventional” (or something like that), indicating exactly how organically its grown. Sadly, half of the stuff in their store is labeled “conventional” (meaning its not one bit organic), yet Whole Foods still marks up their prices and customers are tricked into thinking their buying organic. Remember: just because your at an “organic” foods store, it doesn’t mean that all of what they sell is organic.

  22. jonworld says:

    @jonworld: I apoligize for the misuse of the words “their” and “your.” It should be “they’re” and “you’re.”

  23. Ubermunch says:


    c’mon, they’re selling more than $6 billion worth of groceries every year! You can’t sell food on that scale and not have some issues, and eight in four years ain’t bad at all.

    Wrong. Whole Foods has a relatively bad recall rate compared to stores of the same size/# of SKUs or store chains that are MUCH MUCH larger. Think about Safeway and how many products they sell (with many stores stocking 75,000+ SKUs compared to WFs 50,000 or less and what, triple the locations or more?)… and yet they have roughly the same # of recalls as Whole Foods on their in-house and outsourced brands (Richfood, Safeway, etc.).

    As I said…

    What bugs me about Whole Foods is how the pitch themselves as something special – as caring about your health MORE than other retail grocery chains – and yet their track record does not demonstrate that. It’s HYPE folks… just HYPE… and I think people are silly to think otherwise.

    Opposite example… Here in this area we have MOM: “My Organic Market” which is run by the hippies and leftist freaks that Whole Foods wishes they could hire. I trust their brand name (MOM) products about 10 times more than Whole Foods because I know (for a fact) that they truly care more for their customers. Unfortunately, they are a bit out of my way… but they are everything WFs should be. MOM rocks and WFs does not. C’mom MOM folks… I know you’re out there. Explain the difference to the uninformed!

  24. It’s true, unless you have no other stores to shop at, you’re a sucker for buying at Whole Foods.

  25. timmus says:

    Well, I will say that the service is fantastic at Whole Foods. We’ve always gotten special cuts of meat at the Plano store and the butchers are always super-friendly and attentive.

  26. thelushie says:

    @Ubermunch: Where did you get your information? I am interested in looking it up.

  27. thelushie says:

    @FiftyFourFortyOrFight: Shaws is actually owned by Supervalu which also owns Jewels, Albertsons, and many other supermarkets.

    About your last paragraph. I shop at Whole Foods and love it! I have never gotten the impression that they were anything but a large supermarket chain. I would shop at Mom and Pop shops but the prices are ridiculous.

    I worked for an organic/natural foods store while in college. Besides the fact that they got mad if people came in and didn’t buy anything (they also had a small restaurant which had amazing salsa), they were always worried about the economy and their expenses going up. They are still in business but they had to raise prices. Oh my god, you should have seen the outrage. It was really pathetic and I am surprised they didn’t close up shop. People didn’t realize that they have a business which is their livelihood.

  28. thelushie says:

    @jonworld: And it is the consumer’s responsibility to know what “organic” means, what is implied by certified organic and most importantly, what to buy organic and what to buy conventional. Not everything should be bought organic. So if someone is being tricked (barring false advertising), then it is their own fault. This info is readily available. If someone has a question about what conventional, progressive, or organic means in Whole Foods…ask!

  29. Cupajo says:

    The thought of buying any kind of meat from Whole Foods or Krogers or WalMart or Meijers or Winn Dixie makes me nauseous. Find a local butcher (and fishmonger) you trust and buy all your dead critters from them. You’ll be happier and healthier.

  30. stanner says:

    Whole Foods is a very good grocery store. They are a large chain, so have large chain problems. But they tell you up front which foods are organic and which are not – so that some people are surprised that WF sells non-organic food seems a bit silly.

    They are expensive, and for non-organic stuff, not worth the price. But their seafood, organic meats, and dairy are a cut above the other stores, at least in my area. Plus, they still have real butchers which are becoming harder to come by (there are a couple of local stores that to as well, but only a couple).

    I know the woman that runs Bella Chevre which supplies a line of goat cheese to WF. She tells me they do indeed put great efforts into insuring the source and safety of the food, at least in her case.

  31. sketchy says:

    @Ubermunch: Err, ahh, That whole comment was not meant just for you. I’m not even sure where you think we disagree – the UberConsumer crack was because of your exceptional amount of shopping (as per your post).

    Enjoy whatever it is you’re ranting about.

  32. Keter says:

    I. Hate. Whole. Foods. They are a mega chain with smarmy business practices: they’ve left Austin with little choice in organic groceries after having bought up Sun Harvest (Wild Oats), and the CEO abused consumer message boards by using a fake identity to perform surreptitious marketing.

    I’ve been sounding the alarm on their meat quality for a couple of years now. Hope this gets people’s attention.

  33. APFPilot says:

    Whole Foods sucks since they ruined Wild Oats I avoid them like the plague.

  34. evslin says:

    I go to Whole Foods for one thing: buffalo steaks.

  35. BiZarRroBALlmeR says:

    @Nick1693: I’m sold.

  36. mirk says:

    I’ve been working for Whole Foods for 7 years now. I can safely say that the company take extreme precautions to eliminate these sort of situations. They take extreme pride in their products. Whenever there is a recall on any product, that recall is is to be implemented immediately with a zero tolerance policy for mistakes. Also, Whole foods is constantly under a watchful eye. The quality standards they promise and have to uphold is no easy feat. One mistake, and the company receives extreme fines up the a**.

    Now lets be real here. These things happen to every food retailer in the US all the time. The thing is, you just don’t here about them. Whole foods always catches the business end of these situations because the company is always in the lime light. Give ’em a break. Our beef is the highest quality you can get anywhere. I work for the South Region and most cases our Regions Stores receive Local beef from local businesses. You can’t beat that. As an employee and a loyal customer, I would not shop anywhere else.

    On a side note, the photo above in the article is totally irrelevant. First off, He is totally holding a pan of Lamb rib chops….thought this article was about beef?. Also, based on the look of those sign packages and design collateral it looks like that picture was taken from our North Pacific Region stores. Non of which where mentioned in the article. Ok I’m done now.

  37. scain says:

    At Whole Foods here in Troy, there’s an air of pretentiousness and smugness which is almost suffocating. It’s almost hard to believe anyone that shops there would eat ground beef. I do give them marks for selling Zingerman’s breads & not homogenized milk at the cheapest price locally while being within walking distance, the best selection of bagged tea locally, and the highest concentration of hot women shopping there.

  38. BubbaJudge says:

    Apparently its not as bad as first glance for WF, seems Coleman used Nebraska’s rendering facility, it was’nt Nebraska meat being sold as organic.


    Personally I shop at Sunflower Market here in Colorado, its the poor mans WF without the attitude started by one of the founders of Wild Oats.

  39. yagisencho says:

    PCC Natural Markets for the win (sorry, Seattle area only).