What’s in Your Freezer?

Tracking tainted beef is once more an issue in the United States, after two people have died from eating ground beef tainted with E. coli.
Published: November 4, 2009

The New York Times recently reported that “Two people, one from New Hampshire and another from upstate New York, have died after eating ground beef that may be responsible for an E. coli outbreak linked to illness in more than two dozen people” (see E. Coli Kills 2 and Sickens Many; Focus Is on Beef).

Fairbank Farms, the New York State firm that produced the beef suspected in the outbreak, issued a voluntary recall on Saturday, Oct. 31, for 545,699 pounds of ground-beef products. What struck me, however, was a comment by the company’s spokesperson, who said all of the beef products recalled were 23 to 32 days past their sell-by dates.

So here’s the thing: You might have purchased ground beef two weeks ago and popped it into your freezer. If you’re unaware of the recall, you could take the meat out next spring, cook a few medium-rare burgers on the grill and wind up getting sick.

Privacy advocates don’t acknowledge any of the consumer benefits to RFID, and claim it will only be used to track people against their will. But I know I’d be happy if my supermarket linked the individual packages of ground beef I purchase to my personal account, so that they could call or e-mail mail me if I’d purchased tainted meat.

The Obama administration is considering an overhaul of the food-inspection system, but no matter how much money is allocated, there will never be enough inspectors to visit every farm, abattoir, processing center and so forth. There will always be outbreaks of food-borne illnesses. We need a way to track food with serialized numbers, and to effectively recall products whenever an issue arises.

Is anyone in Washington aware of this?

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below. To read more of Mark’s opinions, visit the RFID Journal Blog or click here.