USDA has not closed the door on the possibility
of defining primal beef cuts that test positive for E. coli O157:H7 as
adulterated, a USDA official told participants at a conference in
Chicago on E. coli O157:H7 prevention hosted by North American Meat
Dan Engeljohn, deputy assistant administrator of the Food Safety and
Inspection Service's office of policy and program development, said
USDA is still debating whether or not to define all beef cuts that test
positive for E. coli O157:H7, regardless of the intended use of the
product, as adulterated. Currently, testing and enforcement focus
largely on beef destined to be ground.
Englejohn also outlined other policy considerations regarding raw beef.
Among them are procedures for using testing data compiled by further
processors that implicate a sole-source supplier of product that tests
positive for pathogens to help the agency trace the pathogen back to
the originating slaughter facility.
He said the agency is also looking at ways to ensure that suppliers and
product types are listed in USDA's STEPS database.
USDA is also currently validating methodology for discerning which of
the six serogroups (O26, O103, O111, O121, O45 and O145) of non-O157 Shiga
Toxin-Producing E. coli (STECS) are present in testing samples.
Engeljohn went on to say the agency is looking at issuing FSIS criteria
for assessing prudent high event day determinations. He noted that
while 100 percent testing at large slaughter operations are bound to
produce some positives during the day, a large number of positives in a
short amount of time are a red flag that interventions are not working
or workers are not properly implementing those interventions.
Also, still on the drawing board are N60 labeling criteria. Draft
guidelines on allowing slaughter plants to label their beef destined
for further processors as tested using the stringent N60 process were
issued last November for public comment.
FSIS has also started to design a post-hide/pre-evisceration baseline
performance standard, according to Engeljohn.
In a review of recent recall data, Engeljohn noted that two recent beef
recalls stemmed from Salmonella contamination. He suggested that while
Salmonella efforts have traditionally focused on poultry, this pathogen
is a threat that beef processors should also give more attention to
Regarding USDA's recently announced bench trim testing program, one
processor asked if bench trim destined for cooking would be tested.
Englejohn said if a processor has sufficient controls in place to prove
clearly that the bench trim is going into fully-cooked products, that
bench trim will not be subject to testing.