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Sterling Heights

February 5, 2013

Local meat vendor named in ground beef recall

Vendor disputes claim, says it’s disastrous to his business

By Eric Czarnik
C & G Staff Writer

A salmonella scare has government agencies asking not just, “Where’s the beef,” but what’s in it?

State and federal officials are blaming an allegedly tainted supply of ground beef for sickening more than a dozen people with Salmonella Typhimurium bacteria, and they say some of that meat has been found in metro Detroit.

According to a Jan. 24 press release from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the beef was made in early December and a Macomb County restaurant reportedly served it.

The statement also said some of the ill victims consumed raw meat as part of a Middle Eastern meal called kibbeh in early December.

Although state health officials said that most of the first reports of infected people were in southeastern Michigan, later reports put the total of salmonella-infected people at 16 in five states, including Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa and Arizona. Illnesses were reported in December and January, resulting in some hospitalizations, according to the Michigan Department of Community Health.

According to the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, on Jan. 24, Jouni Meats Inc. from Sterling Heights recalled about 500 pounds of ground beef that allegedly posed a possible risk of salmonella contamination.

But while Jouni Meats was mentioned in a Jan. 24 USDA press release, the Macomb County restaurant that reportedly served the tainted beef was not named.

Jouni Meats owner Khalil Jouni said there was no proof that his meat was tainted, and he said the USDA took the word of the restaurant when it reportedly showed a receipt from his meat shop.

“I feel that the USDA has singled me out instead of putting everyone that is involved,” Jouni said. “Basically, they ruined my business name.”

Jouni said the USDA didn’t take any meat from his store to test, and he said the possibility existed that the meat could’ve been contaminated elsewhere.

He said the recall has cast a cloud over his business.

“I had people returning meat,” he said. “I’ve lost more than 50 percent of my income. It’s ridiculous. I’ve sold $200. On an average day, I sell $1,500.”

On Jan. 25, the USDA reported that Troy-based Gab Halal Foods also recalled around 550 pounds of ground beef.

Robert Berry, owner of Gab Halal Foods, said that, while the matter is still under investigation, the company would refund any purchase of kibbeh sold to customers Dec. 6-8. He said that Gab Halal Foods is not affiliated with Jouni Meats.

Berry explained that the family owned business has operated for 50 years and keeps chicken and beef processes separate to ensure food safety.

“All the machines are clean,” he said.

State officials say they are continuing to investigate. Michigan Department of Community Health spokeswoman Angela Minicuci said her agency is analyzing the Michigan cases.

“It’s about the same as any other salmonella outbreak,” she said. “But they are very severe, and salmonella can be very concerning if it’s left unaddressed. It can lead to dehydration, which can lead to more severe problems.”

Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development spokeswoman Jennifer Holton stressed that the ground beef recall was initiated by the USDA, adding that Michigan does not have a meat inspection program.

Holton said it could take weeks before her group knows the source behind what caused the salmonella outbreak, and it’s possible that officials might never get a definite answer.

“We’re trying to find a specific germ within the entire food chain,” she said.

Health experts say salmonella may cause symptoms like stomach cramps, fever and diarrhea, and it can last for four to seven days. While the infection can sometimes end on its own, more dangerous symptoms may occur if it enters the bloodstream, health officials said.

To avoid salmonella, health officials are warning the public against eating raw or undercooked meat or eggs, or drinking unpasteurized milk. In addition, food preparers should frequently wash their hands with warm or hot soapy water or alcohol-based sanitizer. They should clean their kitchens and equipment with hot soapy water, officials said.

Learn more about the Michigan Department of Community Health at www.michigan.gov/mdch. More recall news can be found online at www.fsis.usda.gov.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Eric Czarnik at eczarnik@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1058.