WASHINGTON - The nation's meat supply is "the safest in the world," a U.S. agriculture official said Monday, seeking to reassure consumers following the recall of 21.7 million pounds of ground beef that may be contaminated with E. coli bacteria.
Dr. Richard Raymond, the Agriculture Department's undersecretary of food safety, said that while an investigation found inadequate E.coli safety measures at the Topps Meat Co. plant in New Jersey, where the beef was processed, the government was on top of the problem.
"I think the American meat supply is the safest in the world," Raymond said in an interview on CBS's "The Early Show." ''A recall like this does show that we are on the job, we are doing our inspections, our investigation, and we respond when we find problems to make sure that supply is safe."
The recall came after more than a dozen people in eight states including Indiana fell sick, and several were confirmed as getting E. coli from Topps products. Other cases are under investigation.
Raymond urged consumers to take precautions when handling raw meat at home, including: wash hands when handling raw meat products, use a separate cutting board to prepare meats, cook ground meat to 160 degrees Fahrenheit and use a food thermometer to verify the temperature.
People should also check their freezers to make sure they do not have any of the recalled beef, Raymond said.
The recall represents all Topps products with either a "sell by date" or a "best if used by date" between Sept. 25 this year and Sept. 25, 2008. The Elizabeth-based company said this information is found on a package's back panel. All recalled products also have a USDA establishment number of EST 9748, which is located on the back panel of the package and-or in the USDA legend.
A Topps official said over the weekend that the company has now augmented its procedures with microbiologists and food safety experts.
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