Trader Joe’s, the popular and quirky California-based retail chain, will now independently test the ground beef it buys for E. coli O157:H7, joining Costco as a retailer that’s putting its trust into its own testing rather than the meat industry’s or USDA’s.

"Nearly 50% of the available ground beef products we offer in our stores are from suppliers who do not use trim in the product. These items are ground with whole-muscle cuts. However, we still have all ground beef batches for these items tested by our supplier internally and daily by a third-party lab for verification purposes," the company comments in a statement posted on its website. Trader Joe’s would not comment further for beyond the content of its official statement.

The decision to test independently comes in the wake of the E. coli outbreak in the Northeast traced to ground beef processed by Fairbank Farms in Asheville, N.Y., owned by AFA Foods. More than 545,000 lbs. of product, sold under the Shaw’s, Price Chopper, Giant, Ford Brothers, BJ’s Wholesale, and ACME labels in addition to Trader Joe’s, were voluntarily recalled by the processor. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest tally, the outbreak sickened several hundred people in 10 states, with two deaths.

As reported by the New York Times, Fairbank Farms had stopped testing the beef trim it bought from beef suppliers for O157, which it then processed into ground beef, at the request of the suppliers. The story states that Dr. David Theno, who consulted with Fairbank Farms to devise new food-safety systems, "confirmed previous statements by AFA Foods officials that they started testing trim at their grinding facilities, like Costco did, but then stopped when slaughterhouses balked at selling them trim. Like most ground-beef producers, Fairbank Farms uses multiple suppliers of trimmings, and the limits of its finished product testing became apparent in 2007 when it found E. coli in its ground beef and could not determine which of the trim suppliers had been the source."

"Regarding the Oct. 31, 2009, Fairbank Farms recall, our understanding is that although the third-party tests conducted on our ground beef items in question concluded that our items were and are safe for consumption, we were grouped in a plant-wide voluntary recall as an extreme precautionary measure," described the Trader Joe’s statement. "Within the [545,699] lbs. of recalled ground meat, Trader Joe’s was supplied with less than 1% from the lot in question. In addition, from what we have been told by Fairbank Farms, NONE of the reported illnesses and deaths potentially linked to this recent ground beef recall are linked to Trader Joe’s ground beef items."