James "Red" Hudson is used to his company's ground beef getting a good grilling. But now the founder and chairman of Rogers (Ark.)-based Hudson Foods is facing heat of his own. On Aug. 18, federal investigators descended on Hudson's Columbus (Neb.) plant days after the company announced the largest-ever recall of U.S. ground beef because of possible contamination with a deadly strain of the E. coli bacterium.
Regulators want to know if Hudson officials hid the extent of the problem, with the amount of burgers involved growing from an estimate of 20,000 to 1.2 million pounds. They are also troubled by the company's past regulatory run-ins.
But Hudson, 73, is crying foul. He says the recall will cost his company, whose customers include Wal-Mart and Burger King, about $1 million in sales. And he says Hudson is not trying to hide anything. "This is the only time that Hudson has been involved in a recall [related to] E. coli. We're not a bad company," he says. Now, to convince the feds.