Federal agriculture officials have confirmed that inspectors next spring will begin testing samples of beef trim for six strains of E. coli capable of producing toxins that cause infection and death. The move expands long-standing federal rules that ban the better-known E. coli O157:H7 strain linked to illnesses from undercooked meat. Dr. Elisabeth Hagen, under secretary for food safety, stated in a news conference: “This is a really significant step forward for American families. This is about preventing illness. This is about saving lives.”
A small group of victims and family members petitioned the United States Department of Agriculture in 2009 to classify six strains of so-called shiga-toxin producing E. coli, known as STECs, as adulterants subject to testing and ban. The strains include E. coli O26, O45, O103, O111, O121 and O145, known as “the big six,” which collectively are estimated to cause about 113,000 infections and 300 hospitalizations each year. In 2010, the non-O157 STECs caused more infections than the dominant strain of E. coli, and CDC officials estimate that the bugs might cause food-borne illness at twice the rate of E. coli O157.
When the USDA didn’t respond in a timely fashion, Marler Clark of Seattle, a food safety law firm in Seattle representing the group, threatened to sue the agency for denying the petition. It’s not clear how the petition and other efforts by food safety advocates to pressure USDA into expanding its rules about non-O157s figured into the long-delayed decision. The new rules were reportedly drafted as early as January, but for some reason were held up for review at the Office of Management and Budget. Consumer advocates say the change will make the food supply safer. Jean Halloran, Director of Food Policy Initiatives at Consumers Union, had this to say:
By classifying these dangerous pathogens as adulterants, the USDA is adopting a ‘zero-tolerance’ policy toward E. coli in meat that we have long fought for. These strains of E. coli have been identified for years as causing serious illness and even death. This higher standard will help to ensure that disease-causing food is kept off store shelves and out of consumers’ homes.
Some meat producers and retailers had already implemented the testing. Beef Products Inc. of Dakota Dunes, S.D., started testing for the “big six” non-0157 E. coli strains in mid-July. Since then, the company has held back 63,000 pounds of beef, about two-tenths of one percent of its product. The firm sells about 400 million pounds of beef annually. Retail giant Costco also requires its suppliers to test for the non-O157 E. coli strains. Craig Wilson, the company’s assistant of food safety, praised the USDA’s new rules, calling it “a pretty big step.” Hopefully, other companies will now follow their lead and will abide by the new rules.
Contact us today for a free legal consultation with an experienced attorney.
Fields marked *may be required for submission.
If you would like to subscribe to the Jere Beasley Report digital edition, simply visit our Subscriptions page and provide the necessary information or call us at 800-898-2034.
Attorney Advertising - Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.