Food Scientist Discusses BPI's Safety Practices

Jun 9, 2017

The judge's bench in the Union County Courtroom where the case is being heard.
Credit Jeremy Ludemann / SDPB

A food scientist from Texas Tech University took the witness stand on Wednesday and Thursday in the defamation case between Beef Products Incorporated and ABC News. The Dakota Dunes-based meat company argues that  ABC and network correspondent Jim Avila conducted a wrongful media campaign by calling its lean, finely textured beef product 'pink slime.' BPI is claiming almost $2 billion in its suit, which could be tripled under South Dakota's Agricultural Food Products Disparagement Act. South Dakota Public Broadcasting's Jeremy Ludemann reports.

Mindy Breshears is a professor of food microbiology at Texas Tech and directs the school's International Center for Food Industry Excellence. During Wednesday's direct examination, Breshears testified about the safety practices she observed at BPI's plants:

"They literally take a sample out of every single sixty pound box of product that's leaving their facility. I don't know of any other processor that does that. And then, they take samples to the lab and they test it for the presence of salmonella and also e coli - and whenever I talk about e coli, there's e coli 0157:H7."

Breshears also testified that BPI for six other strains of e coli in addition to e coli 0157:H7 - for a total of eight pathogens.

During Thursday's cross examination, ABC attorney Dane Butswinkas presented Breshears with a notice of intended enforcement sent from the United States Department of Agriculture to BPI's South Sioux City, Nebraska Plant in Feburary 2010. The correspondence sent to BPI called for the company to make changes to its hazard prevention practices:

"Butswinkas: After a thorough analysis of the supporting documentation for CCP #1 PH enhancement, the ammoniated beef HACCP [Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points] plan was found inadequate with relationship to both e coli 0157:H7 and salmonella based on the study not being able to support the establishment's claim that the process reduced e coli 0157:H7 to undetectable levels, and unable to demonstrate that the level of salmonella in the finished product would not be excessive. Did I read that correctly? Breshears: Yes."

Breshears testifed that it is common in the beef industry for companies to receive multiple notices every year requiring corrective action, and that BPI's plants were not shut down by the USDA.

Kerri Gehring, a professor of animal science at Texas A&M University, testified on Friday. A deposition from ABC News national correspondent Jim Avila is set to be played in the courtroom next week. The trial is expected to last until late July.

For South Dakota Public Broadcasting, I'm Jeremy Ludemann.