The Food Safety and Inspection Service is instituting some new actions to protect human health from E. coli O157:H7. There has been a noticeable increase in beef recalls this year with 15 since January, compared with five and six the past two years.
"We want the American consumer to know that FSIS has taken a number of aggressive actions to respond to a recent increase in E. coli O157:H7 recalls and illnesses associated with this pathogen and we are further expanding these efforts," said Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Richard Raymond.
Expanded testing, quicker recalls and targeted routine testing are just a few of the actions FSIS has begun.
"Lessons learned from a number of recalls emphasized the need for us to do even more to strengthen our policies and programs," says Raymond. "We also realized that to make risk-based inspection in processing most effective, we need to strengthen our database that will support that system."
FSIS began testing for E. coli in beef trim intended for use in ground beef in March 2007 and will begin testing other ground beef components. By testing earlier in the production change, there is less likelihood of contamination of ground beef available to consumers.
Other initiatives FSIS is implementing include ensuring the safety of imported products, taking into account a broader range of evidence to speed the recall process, and target routine testing to larger plants. Currently all plants have the same chance of being tested but under the new regulations larger volume plants will be tested more frequently than in the past.
Another change beginning in November is all beef plants must verify that E. coli is being controlled during slaughter and processing. A new comprehensive checklist has been developed that will assist in verification that minimum criteria is being met.
"A key to these efforts will be strengthening communications with public health partners, industry and consumer representatives and internally with inspection program personnel," says David Goldman, Assistant Administrator of the FSIS's Office of Public Health Science.
In October and November FSIS plans training sessions on the new policies around the country for small beef processors, other stakeholders and FSIS inspectors. Also a meeting is being planned this winter with state and local public health partners as well as the FDA, CDC and other groups to discuss ways to improve investigations and recalls in terms of efficiency and effectiveness.
To see a comprehensive list of all actions FSIS is taking to reduce E. coli, click HERE.