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More Discussion of E. coli Testing in Beef

One week after U.S. Department of Agriculture Inspector General Phyllis Fong called for better E. coli O157:H7 testing procedures, the Beef Industry Food Safety Council unveiled new, voluntary guidelines for testing products such as beef “trim,” the leftover pieces from larger cuts used to make ground beef. 

As first reported in Meatingplace, the new guidance document for the industry was funded in part by the Beef Checkoff Program and provides suggested procedures for sampling and testing trim, intact meat cuts and frozen ground beef, as well as how to improve lotting protocol and analysis of lab test results.

USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety Elisabeth Hagen called the recommendations “an important step forward in our collective efforts to ensure consistent results in the industry’s food safety programs.”

According to Meatinplace, while the guidelines are voluntary, they simplify the process for companies that are revising their current sampling programs or creating new ones. They also identify the expectations and issues that should be considered when developing a program for pathogen testing.

Last week, in testimony before the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, Fong told lawmakers her office completed an audit to assess the Food Safety and Inspection Service’s sampling program for beef trim and determined the current method “does not yield a statistical precision that is reasonable for food safety.”  

Congresswoman Rosa L. DeLauro, D-CT, ranking member on the Labor, Health, and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee, on Monday responded to the Inspector General’s report, which she said she had requested in November, 2009.

DeLauro, in a news release, said she was disturbed that the sampling program developed by FSIS is not statically valid, adding, “Even more troubling is that, based on the report’s findings, this sampling method is not able to verify that plant controls or interventions are working as intended.”

She urged USDA to come up with statistically valid sampling and corresponding cost estimates for a revised program and laboratory costs. 

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