USDA still considering calling E. coli-positive primals adulterated

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By Rita Jane Gabbett on 8/20/2009


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 Processors Association.

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.

Other considerations

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 going forward.

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.


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