Still, “this agency is not completely satisfied with the time elapsed and the issuance of the recall,” he said. “We will be reviewing data related to this recall as well as our own protocol to determine how we might improve.” Richard Raymond, the department’s undersecretary for food safety, then added: “It’s a policy we will be changing here.” The department’s response comes after news reports about an Agriculture Department e-mail showing that the department knew Sept. 7 about possible contamination but waited 18 days before concluding that the Topps Meat Co. should issue a recall. The recall that began Sept. 25 was soon expanded to cover 21.7 million pounds of hamburger produced by Topps, based in Elizabeth, N.J. It’s the second-largest beef recall in U.S. history. A Florida teen was hospitalized with kidney failure in August, and the meat her family bought was tested by the USDA. WASHINGTON – The Agriculture Department will speed up warnings about contaminated meat in the future, officials said Thursday as they sought to quell criticism of an 18-day delay in seeking the recall of millions of pounds of tainted ground beef. Briefing reporters, department officials acknowledged that they knew as early as Sept. 7 that frozen hamburger patties could be contaminated after preliminary tests indicated the presence of E. coli bacteria strain O157:H7. They said it was impossible to seek a recall without conducting a more sophisticated test to confirm original results, but said they would re-evaluate what the USDA can do better to warn the public sooner. “Let me be clear from the beginning, at this point we weren’t able to take action based on the initial test,” said David Goldman, assistant administrator of the USDA’s Office of Public Health Science. The e-mail – from Kis Robertson, an employee of the USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service – was provided by the teen’s family lawyer, Scott P. Schlesinger, on Thursday. Existence of the e-mail was reported Wednesday by the Chicago Tribune. “They should have recalled immediately. That’s not even a maybe,” Schlesinger said. Asked about the delay, Topps spokeswoman Michele Williams referred questions to the USDA. “We’ve been fully cooperating with their investigation and certainly taking their recommendations,” she said. In the news briefing, Agriculture Department officials said the Sept. 7 preliminary results yielded 13 negative samples and just one positive result. Subsequently, USDA scientists conducted a more sophisticated test, known as the Pulsed Field Gel Electrophoresis, that took an additional seven days due to some unexpected glitches. Those results became available Sept. 14, but the USDA did not act immediately because the suspected meat had been opened in the consumer’s home, raising the question of whether it had been contaminated there. As part of USDA policy, the department does not immediately seek a recall until it gets a second confirmation elsewhere, which it received days later when New York officials reported they had run their own tests on a separate suspected E coli case and found that the beef had tested positive. The USDA’s Raymond acknowledged that the department could have moved forward as soon as Sept. 14. He said the department in the future will seek a recall if officials have strong evidence of contamination, regardless of whether the tested meat had been opened in the home. “There’s always a possibility of contamination in the home rather than the place of manufacture, but it’s unlikely,” Raymond said. As of noon Wednesday, 29 people in eight states had E. coli infections matching the strain found in the Topps patties, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported. None has died. The first illness began July 5, and the last began Sept. 11, the CDC said. The Agriculture Department is investigating in an attempt to find the source of the E. coli strain, which is harbored in the intestines of healthy cattle. The CDC reported these states and numbers of cases: Connecticut, 2; Florida, 1; Indiana, 1; Maine, 1; New Jersey, 6; New York, 9; Ohio, 1; and Pennsylvania, 8. Privately held Topps, which is believed to be the leading U.S. maker of frozen hamburger patties, said it sells its products to supermarkets and institutions such as schools, hospitals, restaurants and hotels.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!