July 23, 2018

USDA Testing Ground Beef for Salmonella; What About E. coli?

On Friday, May 16, 2014, the USDA announced that they are enhancing their food safety testing program for ground beef this summer. The government says that they have safeguards in place to reduce E. coli in ground beef, but are now including tests for Salmonella every time their labs test for E. coli in samples of ground beef and ground beef sources.

Ground Beef on PaperBut an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in Michigan and Ohio that is associated with undercooked ground beef underscores the fact that consumers must still be vigilant when eating any beef products. It is impossible to test every single portion of hamburger or ground beef sold in this country, so it’s important that consumers not eat any undercooked hamburger or rare burgers to protect themselves.

Still, this is a significant change in USDA policy. Samples taken to test for E. coli are much larger than the samples that were used to test for Salmonella, so this new policy will hopefully produce results. Salmonella, along with E. coli, is commonly found in ground beef. Last year, Salmonella Typhimurium in hamburger caused a multistate outbreak that sickened at least 22 people and hospitalized seven.

When enough data has been collected, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) will create a new standard to encourage ground beef processors to strengthen their Salmonella controls. The government claims that Salmonella is “the most urgent issue facing FSIS when it comes to protecting consumers” even though the complications of an E. coli O157:H7 infection includes the most serious, hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). FSIS does state that another part of this program is to encourage consumers to cook all ground beef, whether in burgers or casseroles, to 160°F to avoid these serious illnesses.

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