Friday, February 8, 2008

From farm to fork – not forklift

Covering the food safety beat here at Land Line, I pretty much “see it all” when it comes to all the gory details surrounding food recalls and what can and does happen when someone contracts a foodborne illness after eating bad food.

In the last week or so, I am sure many of you have watched graphic footage on the news and the Internet of workers abusing sick and injured cattle at a California slaughterhouse.

This undercover video was shot by the Humane Society, exposing workers using forklifts, wooden sticks, electric shock and high-pressure sprayers in an effort to get these visibly sick and injured cows on their feet so they could pass USDA inspection – just so they could be processed into the food supply chain.

What’s also disturbing is that this video was shot a few months ago, and if your kids attend public school and eat school lunches, they may have already eaten some of this meat from these sick cows.

That’s because the company in the video, Hallmark Meat Packing in Chino, CA, sells their meat to Westland Meat Co., which is a major supplier of meat to the USDA school lunch programs in at least 34 states. They also supply this meat to the elderly and low-income families.

The good news is that the USDA has indefinitely suspended Westland Meat Company as a supplier to Federal food programs because the meat from “downer” cows is not supposed to enter the food supply chain. But, it does happen. This slaughterhouse was supposed to be inspected by a USDA inspector twice a day.

It outrages me that the inhumane treatment of these animals was just about making a buck. If these “downer” cows can stand during inspection, they can bring a couple hundred dollars apiece profit, but if owners send the same animals to a rendering plant, it actually costs them.

In looking at the video, many of these cows were being drug with chains through manure because they were too sick or injured to stand.

Some scientists believe this is how dangerous E.coli bacteria is being introduced into the food supply chain – when the hides of these “downed” cattle covered in manure are cut through during processing and fecal matter comes in contact with the meat. Besides the threat of E. coli contamination, these sick animals may also have other diseases like mad-cow disease or other diseases that can be transmitted to humans.

More than 33 million pounds of meat was recalled because of potential E. coli contamination last year alone.

I like my beef marinated, but not in E. coli.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

They look like Giants

I have a confession to make. I’m not a real big fan of football. I don’t know team statistics, who is the best defensive lineman, or how many yards it took to complete the last quarterback sneak. I do, however, know the loyalty many fans have for their favorite teams, so I have learned to tread lightly when it comes to voicing opinions.

Being leased to a New Jersey-based carrier, I was in for the weekend with time to kill and a designated driver at the wheel. It was with just a bit of trepidation that I chose to go to my favorite watering hole on Super Bowl Sunday and watch the game. And with all of the media hype about the New England Patriots having it sewn up, many thought that it would be like a walk in the park against the underdogs, the New York Giants.

I like the underdogs, because I am one. I also love it when the little guys get a shot at greatness and prove themselves worthy. I went into the pub wearing a red and blue shirt quite by accident and found myself welcomed as one of the many hometown fans. The old pub was decorated with all the team colors and banners and big screen TVs with the volume cranked up. The place was packed with excited Giants fans, but they made room for me at the bar in front. It’s a Jersey neighborhood thing and you have to experience it to understand. I felt at home.

As football games go, it was a darn good one. Defense upon defense, each team met their match and they worked hard to gain yardage and points scored. You could feel the hopes and dreams of the hardcore fans soar and wane as the scores tallied upward. But they never lost hope, instead, stomping their feet and slamming the table tops in unison, singing “Let’s Go Giants” in cadence. It was a thing of beauty.

And nearing the end of the fourth quarter, with 35 seconds left and the Giants behind by 4 points, Eli Manning made his great escape and threw that 32-yard pass to David Tyree. Catching the touchdown pass at the back of his helmet and holding on for more than dear life, Tyree made Super Bowl history and helped change the world of football. The crowd around me exploded with high fives, screaming and tears of joy.

The underdogs became top dogs. They are truly Giants and it was my privilege to be among the faithful fans and be part of the experience. I may not know football, but I know a good game when I see one and that was one of the best.