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Where’s the beef? Not at 700 Burger King restaurants

August 22, 1997

MIAMI (AP) _ A burger-less Burger King!

The unthinkable happened Friday at 700 restaurants in the nation’s second-biggest fast-food chain. Burger King ran short of hamburgers after it cleared its inventory of beef supplied by Hudson Foods Inc., the source of burgers blamed in an E. coli outbreak that caused more than a dozen illnesses.

``Absolutely, customers are concerned,″ said Paul Clayton, North American president of Burger King Corp., based in Miami. The company said all its stores would have burgers back on the menu on Saturday.

At a Burger King in Minneapolis, a menu written in marker displayed the day’s burger-free choices. Eating in a booth, Terry Brault said he usually orders a Whopper but settled for a fish sandwich.

``I don’t think I’ll come back for a while,″ he said. ``I should have gone to McDonald’s.″

The biggest burger gap was in the Omaha, Denver and Minneapolis areas.

``If I want beef today. I’ll go someplace else,″ said Carl Whitte, a student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, who had a sausage breakfast sandwich at the campus Burger King.

The chain was convinced it never bought any tainted beef from Hudson and said its cooking methods are guaranteed to kill E. coli, but Burger King recalled all Hudson beef as a precaution, Clayton said.

The burgers were pulled in a 28-state scramble Thursday night and Friday, but supplies from alternate sources weren’t expected to reach all restaurants until Saturday. The recall spread from Idaho to Alabama, affecting 1,650 restaurants or one-quarter of Burger King’s U.S. eateries.

``This is a cruel blow,″ said Art Siemering, publisher of Trend/Wire, a food industry newsletter. ``It’s quite a setback for them.″

The company lost sales and suspended a promotion for a new hickory-smoked Whopper.

``It was doing quite well,″ Clayton said. ``We have decided to stop the advertising of that product and begin the promotion of a breakfast.″

This was a crisis for a company with the word ``burger″ in its name. Its patties came from the same Hudson plant implicated in the illnesses, but Clayton said Burger King maintains a separate production line at the plant, and its own biological testing showed no contamination.

The Miami-based chain’s distribution arm ``speeded up quite a bit″ to resupply stores, said company spokesman Rob Anderson.

The company plans to launch a newspaper advertising campaign Saturday and possibly expand it to television ``letting customers know it’s safe to eat at Burger King,″ Clayton said.

Burger King normally serves 4.6 million Whoppers a day to make it the world’s largest-selling burger.

Restaurants that carried Hudson beef are in: Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin, West Virginia and Wyoming.