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Figures Lie, Liars Figure: A Correction

Last week, I penned an article for Food Safety News about a quote attributed to an American Meat Institute official regarding testing of product at a further processing plant that had already been tested at a slaughter facility. In that article I stated that in 2009, there were 64 positive tests for E coli O157:H7, and that 29 of those samples were in ground beef that came from a sole source and was not comingled.

Well, I received a call last week informing me that I was probably wrong on the 64 figure and should check my facts. And it turns out I was wrong, and I hope everyone that read last week’s piece will also be reading this one. I want my stories to be trusted for factual truth, even if not everyone will agree with proposed policies, content, messaging etc.

 

I use figures to drive home messages, but I do not intentionally alter figures or lie. But for this story I did not double check my figures, and that was my mistake.

The fact is that the number 64 represents positive E coli tests in raw ground beef for all of 2009 and up to November 30 of 2010. I either did not get that information up front, or I may have inadvertently not written it down on my notes. If I would have gone to the Food Safety and Inspection Services’ (FSIS) web page, my error would have been detected. But I did not, so the mea culpa is mine to make.

The numbers for 2010 testing are not yet posted, so I cannot come completely clean and tell you what the total would be for the two years combined, but I can say, with 100 percent accuracy this time, that for 2009 there were only 36 positive test for E coli O157:H7 at the 1,400 federally inspected plants producing raw ground beef. 

To find those 36 positives, FSIS pulled 12,797 samples. The result is 0.30 percent of samples testing positive, compared to 0.44 percent in 2008. And for total transparency today, I feel compelled to add that this testing does not include the small amount of sampling at retail stores, the testing done by state inspection programs and the testing of imported ground beef.

In addition, industry itself tests tens of thousands of samples of trim and ground beef at their own expense, destroying or diverting to cooking all positives not included in the 36. 

Lastly, and surprisingly to me, by going to the FSIS web page on testing results, I saw that for the year to date, thru February 27, there have been 1,775 samples pulled at the federally inspected plants producing raw ground beef and zero samples have tested positive. None, nada, zip, zilch. And that is the best news I have seen in a long time and glad to share it with the readers of Food Safety News.

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