(AP)—The government plans to speed up the process for tracking E. coli
in meat, a move that will help authorities more quickly find the source
of bacteria outbreaks and hasten recalls of tainted food.
new Agriculture Department program announced Wednesday would begin
tracing the source of potentially contaminated ground beef as soon as
there is an initial positive test.
procedures require USDA officials to wait until additional testing
confirms E. coli before starting their investigation. Under the new
process, government officials could trace the source of E. coli 24 to 48
further ahead that we can get, the more we can be focusing on
preventing contaminated product from reaching consumers in the first
place,” said Elisabeth Hagen, the department’s undersecretary for food
a batch of meat tests “presumptively positive” for E. coli, the USDA
can immediately begin efforts to link products, companies and the
pathogen to the source supplier and any other processors that received
the contaminated meat.
of people are sickened each year by E. coli, bacteria that can cause
diarrhea, dehydration and, in the most severe cases, kidney failure. The
very young, the elderly and those with weak immune systems are the most
susceptible to illness which can in rare cases be fatal.
13,000 to 15,000 samples of ground beef and beef trimmings are tested
for E. coli every year. The earlier tracking procedure will begin when
the USDA finds the common O157:H7 strain of the E. coli pathogen, which
causes the most severe illnesses.
65 to 75 samples of ground beef test presumptively positive each year,
and 95% of those are later confirmed positive with additional testing,
according to USDA data.
Smith DeWaal, food safety director at the Center For Science in the
Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group, called the announcement a
“very positive step.”
“This will allow them to hopefully reduce the burden of illness that can be linked to these outbreaks,” she said.
group has called on USDA to go even further and offer similar
protections against salmonella strains that are resistant to
USDA will take comments on the new E. coli plan for 60 days. It is
expected to go into effect in July, in time for the peak of summer
testing is now limited to the single E. coli strain, the USDA will
begin expanding testing in the future for six other strains of the
bacteria that are causing increasing numbers of infections.
experts advise consumers to safely prepare raw meat products, including
fresh and frozen, and only consume ground beef that has been cooked to a
temperature of 160 F.
USDA also announced new regulations Wednesday that require meat and
poultry companies to prepare recall procedures and notify USDA within 24
hours that a potentially contaminated meat or poultry product has been
shipped. In addition, the agency will offer new guidance to meat and
poultry plants on how to make sure their food safety systems are
effective in preventing foodborne illness.
Source: The Associated Press