July 16, 2018

E. coli Testing in Beef Trim to Expand

The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service is expected to begin testing beef trim in the next three months for six additional types of shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) bacteria. This breakthrough in food safety is being hailed by consumer groups and food safety experts.

Since 1994, E. coli O157:H7 has been the only type of the bacteria declared as an adulterant and therefore subject to testing. The huge Jack-in-the-Box E. coli hamburger outbreak in 1993 was the impetus for this classification. It will soon be illegal to sell ground beef and beef intended for grinding if it is contaminated with six other serogroups: O26, O45, O103, O111, O121, and O145.

The pending change could be delayed depending on handling of comments from meat industry interests who are opposed to the expanded testing program. But it has the backing of President Obama’s Food Safety Working Group, which is chaired by Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, and Tom Vilsack, Agriculture Secretary. Like other food safety reforms by the President, it is focused on prevention as a principle for building a modern food safety system.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has estimated that non-O157 STEC strains are connected with about 110,000 human illnesses annually, and food-borne O157 strains are connected with about 63,000 annually. The STEC strains recently declared as adulterants in ground beef also are found in other food, but they originate in the the guts of cattle and other animals.

STECs in undercooked ground beef are one of the most dangerous combinations of food poisoning. These bacteria cause hemorrhagic colitis and hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). HUS sufferers lose kidney function and are at risk for stroke, heart attack, central nervous system invasion and severe anemia. Children under 5 years of age are in the age group most susceptible to HUS.

If you’d like to comment on this proposed rule, the FSIS is holding a public meeting on non-0157 E. coli implementation plans via a teleconference on March 5, 2012. Pre-register for the meeting, indicating on the registration form if you’d like to make a public comment.

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