Tainted Costco Beef Is Traced to N. Calif. Plant

<i> From Bloomberg News</i>

Tainted beef recalled by Costco Wholesale Corp. came from a Northern California plant that produces meat exclusively for Costco, a U.S. Department of Agriculture spokeswoman said Tuesday.

Costco recalled about 172,000 pounds of frozen ground beef patties Monday due to contamination by the E. coli bacteria.

The USDA requested a recall in 24 states, including California, after the presence of E. coli was confirmed in an unopened package from the same batch of frozen ground beef linked to an illness reported in Suffolk County, N.Y., in June. The test package came from a Costco store in Michigan, said USDA spokeswoman Jacque Knight.

Costco shares fell 16 cents to $63.06 in Nasdaq trading. On Monday they hit a 52-week high of $64.11. Shares have risen more than 41% this year.


Issaquah, Wash.-based Costco, the biggest U.S. operator of warehouse club stores, is recalling 6-pound packages of ground sirloin and ground beef, which have item numbers 18508 or 18498 and were stamped with date codes from 04/07/98. Also, item number 18508 stamped with 04/06/98 is subject to recall.

Costco meat undergoes “extensive testing” both by Costco in the production process and, usually, by the company’s multiple suppliers before the meat is delivered to Costco, Knight said. “They did have a testing procedure, but it didn’t catch this” contamination, she said.

This strain of E. coli, known as E. coli 0157:H7, often is difficult to find because it is not consistent throughout the meat product, Knight added.

Costco’s chief financial officer, Richard A. Galanti, said the Tracy plant from where the contaminated beef came has been in operation since 1993 and produces more than 1 million pounds of meat each week. Meat being processed is tested for contamination every two hours during the day, as is the final product.


New York State health authorities contacted Costco about a possible illness related to Costco products on June 9, but did not confirm the specific item number and date code until June 18, he said. At that point, Costco searched its stores for any remaining meat from that batch, finding less than 2% was left on the shelves.