At the recent NAMP Management
Conference, Dr. Dan
Engeljohn, USDA’s Food Safety and
Inspection Service deputy assistant administrator, announced USDA has
decided to implement a testing program for E. coli O157:H7
in bench trimmings. This decision by USDA will surely force companies
that still use bench trimmings in raw ground beef to reconsider.
If USDA testing turns up a positive result in bench
trimmings, the subprimals from which the trimmings were derived could
also be considered adulterated and likely subject to recall. Even if an
intervention is used for subprimals, the finding of an E.
coli positive in bench trimmings cut from those subprimals
would suggest that the intervention is not effective. For companies using
bench trimmings in raw ground, the possibilities for uncontrolled,
massive recalls will be greatly increased due to this testing program.
There are two things that every steak processor should do
to reduce the risk of recall:
1. When subprimals are blade tenderized or needle injected, a
validated intervention should be implemented to decontaminate the surface
of the product prior to processing. If the intervention is applied after
trimming, subprimals would not be implicated even if bench trimmings were
found to be positive for E. coli.
2. All bench trimmings should be used for cooked products or
pasteurized using a validated process before being incorporated into raw
ground beef or other raw products.
The options for treating raw bench trimmings to eliminate E.
coli O157:H7 are limited to High Hydrostatic Pressure (HHP)
and irradiation. HHP is considered
a processing and does require labeling. Irradiation is a food additive
and, therefore, must be labeled with a Radura symbol.
Clearly, the action Dr. Engeljohn announced is designed to
discourage the use of unpasteurized bench trimmings in raw ground beef.
USDA is attempting to force the industry to control the formulations for
raw ground beef to allow for full traceability and the use of raw
materials that have been tested using an N-60 testing system.
Beef processors who do not alter their practices on the
use of bench trimmings do so at their own peril.