What Happens to Recalled Meat?

Wampler Foods, a division of poultry titan Pilgrim’s Pride, is recalling 27.4 million pounds worth of cooked deli products, which may be contaminated with the potentially lethal bacteria Listeria monocytogenes. What’s going to happen to all that recalled meat?

Once consumers have returned their suspect victuals to the supermarket, the processed turkey and chicken products will likely be shipped back to Wampler’s Franconia, Penn., factory, which produced the shady meat between May 1 and Oct. 11. The packages will be sprayed with green dye to make clear that their contents should never be consumed. The meat will then either be carted off to landfills, tossed into incinerators, or set aside for rendering into nonhuman protein sources—i.e., dog and livestock food. Listeria, which is frequently present in animal placentas, can be destroyed by subjecting it to temperatures in excess of 160 degrees Fahrenheit, so a long spell of industrial-strength cooking can make the recalled turkey pastrami and chicken breasts safe for canine consumption. (However, due in large part to the furor over mad cow disease, there are growing concerns over the wisdom of feeding tainted meat to cattle, regardless of how well it’s been heated.)

Some stores may elect to destroy the meat on premises instead of holding it for Wampler’s trucks, but they’ll need an OK from federal food safety inspectors, who will monitor the disposal process. Given the nastiness of listeriosis, which is often fatal to infants, the elderly, and others with weakened immune systems, those inspectors will be monitoring the recall very carefully.

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Explainer thanks Professors Dennis Burson of the University of Nebraska and James Marsden of Kansas State University.