Forget about Chipotle for a second. Do you know how many millions of pounds of meat are recalled in the U.S. every year?
Last year 18 million pounds were recalled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and that’s a relatively small amount. In 2008, the country saw 154 million pounds of meat recalled, most of it from a single meat packing plant in California that sold sick “non-ambulatory” cows.
To be clear, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hasn’t said exactly what type of food at Chipotle has been responsible for the outbreak. It might not even be meat. “The epidemiologic evidence available at this time suggests that a common meal item or ingredient served at Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurants in several states is a likely source of this outbreak,” according to a CDC statement.
Depending on the year, different meats are the top culprit. Beef, poultry and pork have each been the top recalled meat in past years. Also, the more broadly defined category simply known as mixed has led the way sometimes.
In 2006, there was even one case of buffalo meat being recalled — a full 2,100 pounds of it.
If you look at the USDA’s online case archive, you’ll find a recent case from Adolf’s Meat and Sausage Kitchen, a store in Hartford, Connecticut.
The October recall involved 14 pounds of smoked kielbasa, 100 pounds of hams, 40 pounds of Canadian bacon, 30 pounds of bone-in pork loins, and 50 pounds of liverwurst. The reason? The USDA said: “224 pounds of assorted meat that may be adulterated with Listeria monocytogenes.” Of the 224 pounds recalled, only 81 pounds have been recovered. Dare we even wonder where the rest is?
Another recent case, this time from Nov. 1: All American Meats Inc. recalled 167,427 pounds of ground beef that might have E. coli. For just a reminder for why the bacteria is so bad, we’ll reference the USDA in its own words:
E. coli O157:H7 is a potentially deadly bacterium that can cause dehydration, bloody diarrhea and abdominal cramps 2–8 days (3–4 days, on average) after exposure to the organism. While most people recover within a week, some develop a type of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).
The year 2011 was particularly bad for E. coli recalls. The USDA lists 13 cases, totaling over a million pounds of food. But that paled in comparison to the 36.2 million pounds of food recalled because ofsalmonella.
There were 10 cases in total, but almost all of the meat came from a single recall of ground turkey by Cargill in August 2011. Of the 36 million pounds Cargill recalled, only 2 million pounds made it back. And what happened to the 34 million pounds? It may have been eaten or discarded, but we don’t really know.
While people might be concerned about Chipotle, where an E.coli outbreak has reached six states — Washington state, Oregon, California, Ohio, New York and Minnesota — remember these kind of problems will continue to happen.
Still, the vast majority of meat recalls are happening with products you might not even think about, in ways that aren’t as well publicized, and in quantities that could be much larger.
While Chipotle might most of the attention, just know that it might actually be your local corner deli that has a recall you don’t even know about.