Starting Monday, June 4, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) will implement mandatory testing on raw beef manufacturing trimmings to verify the product has not been contaminated by the E coli ‘Big Six’ variants, O26, O45, O103, O111, O121 and O145, in addition to E coli O157:H7.
The American Meat Institute’s executive vice-president, James Hodges said that while the industry will be prepared for the new policy, the sector has already taken important precautions that it has deemed necessary to prevent Shiga-toxin producing E coli infecting their products.
“Research shows that the system we have in place for E. coli O157:H7 will also destroy other strains of E. coli,” said Mr Hodges. “That is why we believe that this policy will not improve food safety, but rather will consume resources that could be better spent to identify new preventive strategies.
“US beef is extremely safe,” he added.
Meanwhile, USDA is calling its new testing procedures a “zero-tolerance policy” and has warned manufacturers that if the FSIS finds a sample contaminated by the six additional strains, sales of a product will be halted and could be recalled.
“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 the US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. “We cannot ignore the evidence that these pathogens are a threat in our nation’s food supply.”
According to a statement released by his department, this latest action falls in line with the Obama administration’s goals to strengthen surveillance and enforcement for possible foodborne illnesses while improving the response and recovery time.