California-based Rancho Food Corp. has recalled over 8.7 million pounds of beef products — including oxtail, liver, tongue, and cow carcasses — because the animals they came from were diseased and never inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). That’s equivalent to a full year’s worth of beef that gets processed by the company. The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, which has been investigating Rancho Food, classified it as a Class I recall out of fears that the uninspected meat may cause serious medical harm to consumers.
The massive recall comes just one month after Rancho Food Corp. had to recall another 40,000 pounds worth of meat that hadn’t been inspected. There have been no reported illnesses linked with the products to date.
Food recalls are alarmingly common in America. Foodborne illnesses cost the U.S. about $152 billion per year, sickens 48 million Americans annually, and kills 3,000 people ever year. The proliferation of massive, national food companies such as Cargill Beef also makes recalls tricky, since products from a tainted batch may be shipped all across the country.
Unfortunately, food safety inspections are stymied by a significant lack of funding and insufficient staff. Although President Obama signed the largest overhaul of America’s food safety regimen in 70 years into law in 2010, officials are concerned that the planned changes won’t become a reality without more appropriations.
“Simply put, we cannot achieve our objective of a safer food supply without a significant increase in resources,” warned the Food and Drug Administration’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, Michael Taylor, in testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee last week. “We will continue our efforts to make the best use of the resources we have, but I can say with absolute certainty that we cannot do all that is asked of us without additional resources.”
Funding cuts to food safety agencies have continued despite the fact that the number of foodborne illnesses has actually increased over the last several years. Cuts included in the federal budget sequester are expected to reduce the number of food inspectors at meat and poultry plants by about 600 people.
The original version of this post incorrectly stated that the Food Safety and Inspection Service is a part of the Food and Drug Administration. That agency is actually housed under the U.S. Department of Agriculture.