News broke this week that the USDA will expand the list of E.Coli strains banned due to the risk of illness. Up to this point E.Coli 0157:H7 had been the lonley foodborne culprit. It’s six more uncommon cousins strains 026, 0111, 045, 0145, 0121 and 0103 will now be added to the banned list under a new rule.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture said the six other strains of E. coli will be banned from ground beef due to risks of illness. The new rule will require USDA meat inspectors to conduct new E.coli testing that the agency says will make it easier to prevent infected meat from reaching the market, and will make it easier for the agency to pull products from the market if they are found to be tainted. Although the expansion is welcome news to consumer groups it still leaves holes in the food safety net. Most notably the strain that recently caused thousands of illnesses in Germany, E. coli 0104:H4, is absent from the new list of testing. The USDA has said it is considering adding it in the future.
Meat processors did not welcome news of the new rule. They warn it will cost consumers more money, and say the scientific evidence doesn’t justify the new expense. The American Meat Institute says the new program is likely to cost millions of dollars and has only been tied to beef in a single outbreak responsible for three illnesses. AMI Executive Vice President James H. Hodges told the New York Times: “It’s just not supported by the science.” But some large meat purveyors like Costco didn’t need government prompting to act, they are already requiring suppliers to test for these strains of E. Coli.
The new testing program will take effect in March for beef trim — the meat product used to make ground beef. The six-month delay will give the industry and E. coli test kit makers time to prepare.
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