Monday, June 4, 2012

Expanded E.coli Testing Of U.S. Beef Starts Today

USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) will begin routine sampling for six Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC), known as non-O157 Shiga-toxin producing E. coli (STECs) or “The Big Six, in addition to E. coli O157:H7, in raw beef trimmings beginning today.

As part of its a zero-tolerance policy for E. coli O157:H7, FSIS will initially sample raw beef manufacturing trimmings and other raw ground beef product components produced domestically and imported, and test the samples for the serogroups O26, O103, O45, O111, O121 and O145. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identified these particular serogroups of non-O157:H7 Shiga-toxin producing E.coli, or non-O157 STEC, as those responsible for the greatest numbers of non-O157 STEC illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths in the United States.

The agency extended the original March implementation date to provide additional time for establishments to validate their test methods and detect the pathogens prior to entering the stream of commerce.

The notice was published on May 31, 2012 in the U.S. Federal Register and includes responses to the comment period that was opened Sept. 20, 2011.

E.coli O157:H7 was declared an adulterant in 1994, following the Jack in the Box E.coli outbreak that sickened hundreds of people and killed four including a young boy. But E.coli O157:H7 is not the only strain of the bacteria that can cause serious illness or death. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) estimates that banning the six additional strains of E.coli will reduce by 110,000 the number of foodborne illnesses reported in the U.S. each year.

Any beef trim testing positive for these pathogens will not be allowed into commerce and will be subject to recall.

“These strains of E. coli are an emerging threat to human health and the steps we are taking today are entirely focused on preventing Americans from suffering foodborne illnesses,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, in a statement. “We cannot ignore the evidence that these pathogens are a threat in our nation’s food supply.”

A number of rapid methods designed to detect these strains are available and can certainly play a role in monitoring the food supply accordingly.

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