direction for F.S.I.S.?
Reading the tea leaves of the bench-trim testing announcement
(MEATPOULTRY.com, August 07,
by Steve Bjerklie
of Article: http://www.meatpoultry.com/news/beyond_stories.asp?ArticleID=104853
Does last week’s
announcement by the Food Safety and Inspection Service that the
agency’s inspectors will begin to test bench-trim for the presence of
E. coli O157:H7 signal a new aggressiveness at FSIS toward food safety,
in general, and toward pathogenic contamination, in particular?
At this point, the
best-informed answer appears to be: Possibly.
Scott Goltry, vice
president for food safety and inspection services at the American Meat
Institute, told MEATPOULTRY.com that "it’s not easy to implement a
broad new testing program across the whole United States." He
doesn’t see the new bench-trim program, which he called "pretty
much similar to the trim testing FSIS already does in slaughter
plants," as a harbinger of a new approach by FSIS to controlling
But others aren’t
so sure. "Testing bench-trim is an inspection step that puts
pressure on a much larger universe of meat products," said Robert
Hibbert, attorney with K&L Gates and a former FSIS official.
According to Hibbert, FSIS has until now kept its definition of
"adulterated" restricted to ground product, but if the
definition is extended to bench-trim, which is not ground, that opens
at least the possibility that primal, subprimals and even carcasses
could one day be covered by the "adulterated" umbrella. If
that happens, the beef industry will find itself in a huge liability
situation, with ramifications that will reach down to the smallest
trim" comprises the small pieces of whole-muscle meat left behind
after larger pieces of beef are trimmed on the boning line. Studies
have shown that E. coli O157:H7 can live on the surface of whole-muscle
cuts, but the high temperatures the surfaces of these cuts are
subjected to in cooking kill the pathogen. Ground beef has been a
concern, however, because the interior of ground beef is made up of
hundreds of tiny meat surfaces, and if the internal temperature doesn’t
reach 165°F during cooking, a total pathogen kill on the interior of
ground beef products cannot be assured.
A source who spoke
to MEATPOULTRY.com only on the condition of anonymity said: "If
FSIS determines that E. coli on a beef carcass makes that carcass
adulterated, then what about Salmonella on chicken? Where would they
draw the line? I think testing bench-trim has the possibility of
setting a very serious precedent that has huge implications."
At last week’s
announcement of the new bench-trim testing program, Secretary of
Agricultural Tom Vilsack said, "The actions we are taking today
will result in safer food in our country, which means healthier
children and less costly healthcare."