Potentially contaminated meat that has been recalled by federal health authorities has not been for sale in Portland for more than a month.

On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a recall of more than 4,000 pounds of rib-eye and other fresh beef products that could contain contamination linked to mad cow disease.

The meat was processed from last September to April by Fruitland American Meat in Jackson, Missouri, and sent to a Whole Foods distribution center in Connecticut. It was sold at Whole Foods stores in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Maine.

Whole Foods spokeswoman Heather McCready said she does not know how much of the recalled meat was sold at the chain’s Portland store. None has been available for more than a month.

There have been no reported cases of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, commonly known as mad cow disease, a fatal disease in cattle that causes a spongy degeneration in the brain and spinal cord.

People who eat meat tainted with mad cow disease could develop a rare, fatal disease called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease.

McCready said the USDA thinks the problem may simply be an issue of improper documentation. She said Whole Foods’ standards mandate that all grass-fed cattle it buys be killed by the age of 28 months to mitigate the risk of mad cow disease, which has been found only in cattle older than 5 years.

Whole Foods is motivated to move as quickly as possible to remove recalled products because it would take a huge financial hit if a customer got sick after eating a product that it failed to remove from its shelves, said Ronald Dyer, quality assurance regulation director for the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. The company would face expensive lawsuits and a public relations disaster, he said.

“I have no reason to think they are not doing everything they can to protect the public,” Dyer said of Whole Foods. “It’s in their best interest, and the system works because of that.”

Dyer said inspectors will monitor Whole Foods’ response to the recall. His unit has 20 inspectors who divide their time roughly equally between inspecting food processing facilities and retail food stores in Maine.

This recall is a Class II recall, which means the meat has a “remote probability of adverse health consequences.”

USDA said the suspicious beef that has been recalled has these production dates printed on the packaging: 9/5/13, 9/10/13, 9/11/13, 9/26/13, 10/2/13, 10/3/2013, 11/8/13, 11/22/13, 12/17/13, 12/26/13, 12/27/13,1/16/14, 1/17/14, 1/23/14, 1/31/14, 2/13/14, 2/14/14, 2/21/14, 2/28/14, 3/8/14, 3/20/14, 4/4/14 or 4/25/14.

Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

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