NEWS ROUNDUP

USDA Starts E. Coli Inspectionspartment of Agriculture inspectors last week began making unannounced visits to supermarkets to test ground beef for the presence of E. coli bacteria. Under the new program, any ground beef found to contain the bacteria will be considered adulterated. The USDA will then order the meat recalled or to be cooked at a high enough temperature to kill the bacteria. In addition,

USDA Starts E. Coli Inspections

partment of Agriculture inspectors last week began making unannounced visits to supermarkets to test ground beef for the presence of E. coli bacteria. Under the new program, any ground beef found to contain the bacteria will be considered adulterated. The USDA will then order the meat recalled or to be cooked at a high enough temperature to kill the bacteria. In addition, the USDA, through local health departments, will issue a press release to alert the public specifically about the store involved.

"This could be potentially devastating to a business," said Tom Wenning, National Grocers Association senior vice president and general counsel.

"The policy destroys consumer confidence in ground beef products and unnecessarily the reputation of innocent retailers," said Wenning.

And, he said, publicity could overshadow the fact that cooking meat kills the bacteria.

Fred Meyer Talks Spur Optimism

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Negotiators here expressed optimism late last week that a settlement might be near in the 11-week-old strike against Fred Meyer Inc., according to Jill Eiland, a spokeswoman for Food Employers, the bargaining arm for local operators.

Talks had resumed here earlier in the week under the aegis of a federal mediator -- the first time in three weeks that union and management representatives have faced each other.

Representatives from United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 555 could not be reached for comment.

Floods Hurt Staffing, Deliveries

HOUSTON -- The heavy rains and flooding that forced thousands from their homes in southeastern Texas last week caused staffing and delivery problems for local supermarkets.

However, none of the major local chains closed stores as a result of the disruptions, which caused 16 counties to be declared disaster areas.

One of the biggest problems for local operators was scheduling labor, with some employees having problems getting to work because of flooded roads or preferring to remain at home because of concerns about home and family safety. Gary Huddleston, consumer affairs manager here for Kroger Co., Cincinnati, told SN the company was asking employees already in stores to work overtime or asking Kroger office employees to assist in the stores.

Cindy Crane-Garbs, vice president of marketing and consumer affairs for Randalls Food Markets here, said the major problem has been getting employees to and from work "because the water is high, covering some streets, rising over some bridges and coming up from the bayous."

While store closings were not reported at Kroger, Randalls or H-E-B Pantry Food Stores here, officials at all three chains said some delivery trucks had to find alternate routes to reach certain store locations.