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Some customers’ love of beef stronger than contamination scare

August 23, 1997

Some people just couldn’t let concern over E. coli bacteria-contaminated beef stand in the way of their taste buds.

``I’m scared, yes, but I was hungry for a Whopper,″ said Joseph DeLoach, chowing down at a Burger King in Oklahoma City.

``I wasn’t worried because I know Burger King cooks the hell out of their meat,″ Harvey Ungerleider of Buffalo Grove, Ill., said Friday at one of the restaurants in Chicago.

That spirit spread beyond Burger King to other restaurants.

``People are asking for them well-done, rather than medium; that’s the only change now,″ Eartha Heyliger said Saturday at the Television City Restaurant she manages in New York City’s Rockefeller Center.

The recall of 25 million pounds of hamburger processed at a Hudson Foods Inc. plant forced menu changes and inventory overhauls across the country, from Boston Market restaurants to Safeway, Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club stores.

Burger King, the nation’s second-largest fast-food chain, was the most visibly affected: 1,650 restaurants in 28 states or one of every four Burger Kings in the United States.

Joel Bishop wasn’t concerned as he wolfed down a double-beef Whopper at a Burger King in downtown Cincinnati. The chain’s restaurants in Cincinnati, Dayton and Columbus, Ohio, didn’t stock Hudson meat and kept on serving burgers.

``This country overreacts to everything. The sky is always falling,″ he said Friday.

``I ate apples during the Alar scare, too,″ he said, referring to the 1989 reports linking Alar, a growth regulator sprayed on apples, to cancer risks. The apple industry lost an estimated $75 million in that scare.

Bishop’s friend Steve McClusky said there was a line when they ordered their food at Burger King.

``Nobody looked too concerned to me,″ he said. ``I know I’m not.″

Elsewhere, however, business had dropped noticeably.

``Sales were down 8 percent when the story first broke and we expect a worse situation next week,″ said Rhett Smith, president of Southdown Corp., which owns Burger Kings in central Tennessee.

He said Southdown didn’t have any beef from Hudson.

``It’s definitely slacked up a little,″ Harvey Crayton said at the Burger King he manages in Montgomery, Ala. He said the restaurants in Montgomery get their beef locally, not from Hudson.

Some customers made an effort to change their eating habits.

``Since that beef scare, I haven’t gone to Burger King. I haven’t (even) bought ground beef since then,″ Greg Greear of White Marsh, Md., said Saturday while eating Chicken McNuggets outside a McDonald’s in midtown Manhattan.

``Why walk in and order food when you’ve heard bad reports about the meat?″ Virginia Betts said as she ordered breakfast Friday at a Burger King in Omaha. ``In the back of your mind, you’re always wondering, `Have they sent all the bad meat back?′ ″

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