Last week I had the privilege of attending and speaking at the American Conference Institute’s foodborne illness conference in Scottsdale, Arizona. One of the other speakers was David Goldman, M.D., Ph.D., Assistant Administrator of the Office of Public Health Science, Food Safety and Inspection Service (“FSIS”), United States Department of Agriculture (“USDA”). Dr. Goldman provided some interesting information about foodborne contamination from supermarkets.

He reported first that FSIS believes Listeria is eight times more likely to originate from a supermarket deli than from hot dogs or deli meat processed in a plant.

Dr. Goldman also reported on a drug-resistant form of Salmonella tied to beef from a supermarket chain. FSIS was frustrated that it could not identify the meat producer of the pathogen. Apparently, the supermarket chain did not keep clear grinding logs. For no reason other than poor record keeping, the supermarket chain, not the meat producer, bore responsibility for the outbreak (and any resulting liability).

Even though issues with deli meats and grinding logs are different, both signal that supermarket chains must remain vigilant to reduce exposure to food liability. Supermarkets should audit safety practices and carefully police practices behind the deli counter. Similarly, they should review policies concerning meat grinding logs. Meat grinding logs can be vital tools in defending against and mitigating liability claims attributed to ground beef (especially those related to E. coli, BSE, Salmonella, etc.).