By Lucy Komisar
October 17, 2009
When he was interviewed for the investigative story I did in March on Sodexo’s practice of demanding rebates (ie kickbacks) from suppliers, Sodexo deputy counsel Tom Morse argued that working only with “compliant” vendors was necessary to assure health and safety. (Compliant means they pay rebates.)
He said that “the first thing we vet our vendors for is safety against food-borne illnesses …”
In August , 27 people at a Boy Scout camp in Goshen, Va, were made ill and more than 80 showed symptoms of E. coli, the deadly bacteria, which had infected ground beef supplied by Sodexo, which bought it from Sysco, a distributor. Sysco got the hamburger from Cargill, the giant food conglomerate.
An investigative article by Michael Moss in the NY Times this month reported that Cargill’s hamburgers are made from a mix of slaughterhouse trimmings and a mash-like product derived from scraps that are ground together .
Moss wrote that hamburgers of various grades of meat from different parts of cows and even from different slaughterhouses are particularly vulnerable to E. coli contamination.
But, Using a combination of sources ” a practice followed by most large producers of fresh and packaged hamburger ” allowed Cargill to spend about 25 percent less than it would have for cuts of whole meat.
Those low-grade ingredients are cut from areas of the cow that are more likely to have had contact with feces, which carries E. coli, industry research shows.
Moss said, With seven million pounds produced each week, the company‘s product is widely used in hamburger meat sold by grocers and fast-food restaurants and served in the federal school lunch program.
Such burgers cost Cargill about $1 a pound, company records show, or about 30 cents less than industry experts say it would cost for ground beef made from whole cuts of meat.
But when it came to E. coli O157:H7, Cargill did not screen the ingredients and only tested once the grinding was done.
Sodexo could use safer hamburger. Moss noted that The retail giant Costco is one of the few big producers that tests trimmings for E. coli before grinding.
Why doesn’t Sodexo demand that its suppliers do the same? Would it cut into its profits?