July 14, 2020

USDA Will Expand non-O157 STEC Testing to Ground Beef

According to an announcement in the Federal Register, the USDA will expand non-O157 STEC (Shiga toxin-producing E. coli) testing to ground beef, bench trim, and other raw ground beef components. The non-O157 strains include what’s called the “Big Six” E. coli strains: E. coli O26, O45, O103, O111, O121, and O145.

USDA Will Expand non-O157 STEC Testing to Ground Beef

USDA first announced the decision to test raw, non-intact beef product and raw, intact beef product for those six strains on September 20, 2011. The decision was made because these strains have high pathogenicity, low infectious dose, transmissibility from person to person, and thermal resistance of the pathogens that is high enough to survive ordinary cooking.

The estimated benefits of this new testing include reduced outbreak-related recalls, reduced illnesses and deaths, and improved business practices. The USDA estimates the benefit from reduced outbreak-related recalls along to be at least $51.6 million per year. Benefits from reduced illness and improved business practices weren’t quantified. The total benefit of this testing outweighs the total cost, which is estimated to be about $6.4 million.

The USDA says that slaughter establishments are the best place to present non-O157 contamination because contamination occurs during slaughter and dressing. These processing plants can control or reduce STEC below detectable feels by using preventive measures.

These pathogens cause serious, life-threatening illness. The last multistate non-O157 Shiga toxin-producing E. coli outbreak in the United States was an E. coli O103 outbreak in 2019 that was linked to raw ground beef. One hundred ninety-six patients from 10 state were sickened in this outbreak. Twenty-eight people were hospitalized. And two people developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a type of kidney failure.

And in 2018, an E. coli O26 outbreak, also linked to raw ground beef, sickened 18 people in 4 states. Six people were hospitalized, and one person living in Florida died.

These outbreaks provide the evidence used by USDA to expand non-O157 STEC testing to other ground beef and other raw beef components. The quantified benefit number answers questions asked by commenters.

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