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FSIS to Test Ammoniated Beef for E. coli

In the wake of a New York Times expose, which scrutinized the widespread use of ammoniated meat in ground beef products, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced in a directive that it will no longer exclude the chemically-treated beef from testing regulations.

The directive provides new directions for FSIS personnel on how to implement routine sampling of ammoniated, or “pH enhanced,” beef products for E. coli O157:H7 in raw beef products.

hamburger-6.jpgThough FSIS did not indicate in the directive when the new testing protocol will become mandatory, the notice indicates a significant shift in how the agency regulates the chemically treated beef.

As the New York Times piece indicated at the end of December, ammoniated beef, manufactured by Beef Products Inc., had been previously excluded from testing requirements because the ammonia is supposed to raise the pH levels in the meat to kill off pathogens.

According to The Times, the USDA decided in 2007 that the ammonia process was so effective they exempted the treated beef–which is widely used by major fast food chains and the USDA National School Lunch Program–from routine pathogen testing.

However, The Times, citing government and industry testing records, reported that the treated beef was found contaminated with E. coli and Salmonella dozens of times over the past few years.

The Times findings have put considerable pressure on USDA officials to revisit the issue.

It remains to be seen whether FSIS’ decsion to implement a testing program will be enough to dampen concerns over the ammoniated beef process. Though The Times piece focused on the efficacy of the process–it clearly found that the ammonia did not always kill dangerous pathogens effectively–there was considerable consumer outrage over the simple fact that ammonia was used in beef products to begin with.

Twitter, for example, continues to be abuzz over the findings.

“Yummy! Ammonia treated pink slime in most US ground beef,” “Gross! No more ground beef for me,” “Have some ammonia with your beef, maybe some E. coli too?” were among the thousands of comments in the twittersphere.

Despite the apparent yuck factor, the Associated Press reported recently that the big buyers of ammoniated beef–McDonalds, Burger King, and Cargill–were undeterred by the article and will continue to purchase the treated beef.

© Food Safety News
  • jmunsell

    Plant owners across the US, including me, attending official 3-day HACCP Training sessions in 1996 and in subsequent years. In those sessions, a variety of officials proudly proclaimed that the primary advantage of HACCP over the then-existing form of meat inspection was that HACCP was “SCIENCE BASED”. The speakers then went on to explain that HACCP was science based because it would require large numbers of microbial tests in meat plants, tests which did not occur (for the most part) in the old meat inspection system. Indeed, in the 54 years of my plant’s existence prior to HACCP, we never collected even ONE microbial sample. After HACCP’s arrival, we collected multiple dozens, at great expense.
    On January 26, 1998, the largest plants implemented HACCP. On February 1, 1998, a mere six days later, USDA issued Dir 10,010.1 which essentially exempted the large plants from USDA-conducted microbial sampling. Quick payback! Only after ConAgra’s 19.1 million lb recall in June 2002 did the agency finally change policies which now allows USDA to collect samples at the largest plants.
    It is no surprise that the agency does not want to conduct testing at BPI, the same as it doesn’t want to test at the largest slaughter establishments. What would the agency do when they discover positives? USDA is paralyzed with fear, that they may be forced to implement meaningful enforcement actions at the biggest plants, which have political clout and deep pockets.
    Instead, USDA prefers to accept, without cross examination, pious proclamations from the largest plants who claim to have such superlative HACCP Programs and interventions that they simply cannot produce pathogen-laced meat.
    USDA-style HACCP is NOT science based! Well, based in political science and science fiction, neither of which benefit public health.
    John Munsell

  • Pat

    Is ammoniated beef used in school lunch programs?

  • meat industry pays my bills

    Sounds like someone is still a little sore about getting busted.

  • John Munsell

    Plant owners across the US, including me, attending official 3-day HACCP Training sessions in 1996 and in subsequent years. In those sessions, a variety of officials proudly proclaimed that the primary advantage of HACCP over the then-existing form of meat inspection was that HACCP was “SCIENCE BASED”. The speakers then went on to explain that HACCP was science based because it would require large numbers of microbial tests in meat plants, tests which did not occur (for the most part) in the old meat inspection system. Indeed, in the 54 years of my plant’s existence prior to HACCP, we never collected even ONE microbial sample. After HACCP’s arrival, we collected multiple dozens, at great expense.
    On January 26, 1998, the largest plants implemented HACCP. On February 1, 1998, a mere six days later, USDA issued Dir 10,010.1 which essentially exempted the large plants from USDA-conducted microbial sampling. Quick payback! Only after ConAgra’s 19.1 million lb recall in June 2002 did the agency finally change policies which now allows USDA to collect samples at the largest plants.
    It is no surprise that the agency does not want to conduct testing at BPI, the same as it doesn’t want to test at the largest slaughter establishments. What would the agency do when they discover positives? USDA is paralyzed with fear, that they may be forced to implement meaningful enforcement actions at the biggest plants, which have political clout and deep pockets.
    Instead, USDA prefers to accept, without cross examination, pious proclamations from the largest plants who claim to have such superlative HACCP Programs and interventions that they simply cannot produce pathogen-laced meat.
    USDA-style HACCP is NOT science based! Well, based in political science and science fiction, neither of which benefit public health.
    John Munsell

  • You did ask

    “Is ammoniated beef used in school lunch programs?”
    Answer: ‘According to The Times, the USDA … exempted the treated beef–which is widely used by major fast food chains and the USDA National School Lunch Program–from routine pathogen testing
    Short Answer: Possibly not right now, or in your area. But in general, this article implies that it is.