Safety Zone
By: James Marsden
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On the road in Vista, CA: The fight against E. coli

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(The views and opinions expressed in this blog are strictly those of the author.)

About ten years ago, I attended a NAMP meeting in Chicago and heard the President of Jensen Meat Company, Bob Jensen make a statement that made a lasting impression on me. He said that he was “one undercooked patty away from being driven out of business”.
His company produces raw ground beef and he was speaking on USDA’s policy which at the time declared E. coli O157:H7 an adulterant in raw ground beef, but did not address contamination on beef carcasses or trimmings. Bob said in his presentation that he was not going to wait for USDA or the beef industry to solve the problem, but that he would take the initiative himself. 


Recently, I visited Jensen Meat Co. in Vista, CA and saw firsthand what Bob has done over the past ten years to establish food safety systems for controlling E. coli O157:H7 and to protect his customers and his business from regulatory actions and recalls. Of course, he has also made his products safer for consumers.


In the late 1990’s, Bob chaired a NAMP task force on E. coli that encouraged USDA to approve anti-microbial interventions that could be applied to beef trimmings. As soon as such an intervention became available, Jensen was the first company in the US to implement it. The intervention was Acidified Sodium Chlorite (ASC) which reduces E. coli O157:H7 contamination on beef trimmings by over 99%. Bob’s plant acted as the first test site for ASC and it required a great deal of time and effort to perfect the application process. Eventually, the process was implemented, approved by USDA and it became an integral part of the food safety system at Jensen (and many other ground beef manufacturers across the United States).


 Today at Jensen Meat Co., trimmings that pose a risk for E. coli O157:H7 are all treated using ASC and microbiological testing is used to document the effectiveness of the treatment. Jensen also requires suppliers of trimmings to test for E. coli O157:H7 using n-60 testing protocols and they conduct their own microbiological testing to verify supplier process control.


It was inspiring to see how a small family-owned company addressed what seemed at the time to be an insolvable problem. There is still some risk of E. coli O157:H7 contamination because Jensen does not control the entire process. However, their risk is certainly much lower because of Bob Jensen's food safety vision.


Have you heard about anyone doing something interesting in the fight against E. coli? I would like to know more about it.




7/17/2009 11:11 AM 


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