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Nebraskan Beef Facility Shut Down By U.S. Department of Agriculture

By Rick Weiss
and Caroline Mayer
The Washington Post

A major meat-processing company already under federal investigation for its recent distribution of tainted hamburgers is shutting down its Nebraska beef-processing facility indefinitely and recalling all burgers shipped from the plant, estimated to be about 25 million pounds, Agriculture Department and company officials announced Thursday.

The enormous nationwide recall, the largest by far in U.S. history, was a "non-negotiable" recommendation from the government, Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman said. It was put to the plant's owner, Hudson Foods Inc. of Rogers, Ark., after federal inspectors uncovered evidence that the company's meat processing, bacterial testing and bookkeeping procedures were inadequate to assure that its products were safe.

"Enough new information has come to light so we are ready to take action," Glickman said at a hastily called news conference.

The move expands upon a 1.2 million-pound hamburger recall at the same plant, announced last Friday. That recall was ordered after federal investigators determined that Hudson hamburgers produced during three days in June had caused 16 cases of food poisoning in Colorado.

In a statement released Thursday, Hudson Foods said it was closing the plant and initiating the recall "out of an abundance of caution and to restore the public confidence."

Undersecretary for Food Safety Cathie Woteki urged consumers to check their freezers for any Hudson Foods frozen hamburgers and return them to the place of purchase. All Hudson products are labeled with an "establishment number," which is 13569.

The company's burgers are carried by such national chains as Burger King, Wal-Mart, Boston Market, Sam's Club and Safeway.

Burger King announced it would immediately pull all Hudson products from its restaurants. About 25 percent of Burger King outlets carry Hudson beef products, and some of those restaurants may experience temporary shortages of burgers, the company said in a statement.

Glickman said the department was moved to recommend closure of Hudson's Columbus, Neb., plant and a total recall after inspectors learned that the company had a practice of saving leftover raw meat not used in the burger-making operation on one day and adding it to batches of raw meat used to make burgers the next day.

A separate investigation for possible criminal activity is still under way, said USDA Inspector General Roger Viadero. That investigation was initiated after a USDA audit last week determined that the company's initial estimate of the amount of meat that may have been contaminated in June was short by more than a million pounds.