retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The Wall Street Journal reports that “Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Co., which issued the biggest meat recall in U.S. history last week, probably will shut down permanently.” A company spokesman tells the Journal that because the company is privately held and short on cash because some customers have stopped paying it, it is increasingly unlikely that ownership will be able to keep the business alive.

It was earlier this year that Hallmark/Westland voluntarily recalled 143 million pounds of beef that went through its processing plant amid charges that at least some of its employees had not just mistreated the cattle, but also had tortured “downer cows” into standing up so they could be slaughtered; “downer cattle” are a higher risk for mad cow disease. What made thing worse was that the Humane Society released a video of the animal cruelty, and that a large percentage of the recalled beef already had gotten into the food chain – much of it in school cafeterias.

USA Today reports this morning that “the nation's largest meat recall could grow into its largest food recall as companies destroy products with any amount of the 143 million pounds of beef recalled last week. The recall's scope is unprecedented, says the Grocery Manufacturers of America. The value of foods affected — including soups, sauces, burritos and bouillon cubes — could run into the hundreds of millions of dollars, a senior GMA official says.

Government officials say that it could take some time to figure out exactly how many products the recalled meat went into, and some in the industry already are questioning whether the current effort is overkill, since there have been no reports of illness, no proof of contamination, and the USDA has classified the risk to consumers as remote.

KC's View:
Demonstrating how little room for error there is in the food business these days.

Of course, it is ironic that, as noted above, even as all this beef is being recalled, “salvage stores” are selling food past its sell-by dates because that’s all some people can afford.