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Disease-Causing E. Coli Still Illegal, Says FDA

U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) policy remains unchanged: the agency considers any disease-causing strain of E. coli to be illegal.

Why that statement was removed from a press release published June 3 was simply the result of a “robust editing process,” an FDA spokesman said Thursday in response to an earlier inquiry from Food Safety News.

The FDA, which is responsible for the safety of about 80 percent of the food consumed in the United States, said the statement was edited out within about an hour of its original release last month.

“On June 3, 2011, FDA posted an early draft of a press release titled ‘FDA statement on E. coli O104 outbreak in Europe,’ ” agency spokesman Stephen King said Thursday.  “Less than an hour later, FDA posted and issued a final release. As we have been stating since the outbreak in Europe, FDA considers any disease-causing strain of E. coli in food to be illegal.”

“FDA press releases go though an robust editing process and it is not out of the ordinary for quotes and comments to be changed or deleted if they are not necessary to communicate the message in a clear and concise manner,” King added.  “It’s not possible for all of FDA’s stances to make it into every news release, but that doesn’t change our policy.”

Siobhan DeLancey, with FDA public affairs staff, says it’s “a simple and not very mysterious explanation,” adding: “As we have been stating since the outbreak in Europe, FDA does consider any disease-causing strain of E. coli in food to be illegal.”

DeLancey, in an email to Food Safety News publisher Bill Marler, said “In retrospect, we should have put up a note explaining that an earlier draft had been posted and was subsequently replaced with the final version.” She says she is talking to her superiors about explaining such revisions in the future.

When the change was noticed — about a month later — the agency was slow to come up with an explanation for why it had removed a simple, bold statement about E. coli policy.

That caused many in the food safety community, in Washington and around the country, to speculate — had FDA been slapped down by outside forces?  

The U.S. Department of Agriculture still bans only E. coli O157:H7 from ground beef, not the six other most common Shiga toxin-producing strains of E. coli (STEC) in the U.S.  Two White House offices, Management and Budget and the U.S. Trade Representative, are now considering whether additional STEC bacteria should also be considered adulterants in meat.

According to the FDA, the first version of its June 3 press release was posted at 5:05 p.m., and the edited version, which dropped the statement about disease-causing E. coli, replaced it at 6:01 p.m.  

At the time the unedited version was published, there was intense worldwide focus on the Euro outbreak. The June 3 statement was the first made by the FDA about the O104:H4 epidemic in Germany. With such intense interest, it’s no surprise that the agency’s original version was quickly picked up and replicated by news services around the world.

© Food Safety News
  • dangermaus

    So, the articles we’ve seen on these sites calling on the FDA/USDA to include these strains on their official roster of adulterants was all B.S.?

  • We are just trying to clarify the facts. I always assumed that FDA considered them illegal, but not FSIS.

  • dangermaus

    Another argument that their overlapping authority is causing confusion… Too bad people like my senator (Durbin) would never consider ceding any USDA power to the FDA… Can’t wait to vote against that guy.

  • Minkpuppy

    Dangermaus, Absolutely not. USDA is currently trying to work around the American Meat Institute to get non-O157 E. coli declared as adulterants.
    AMI will pull every dirty trick in the book to prevent their members from having to take any meaningful action against these bugs, including suing FSIS. They argue that the current interventions against O157 are effective against the others but if that’s really the case, why the heel-dragging? Are they afraid that the facts won’t back up the claims? Anyone’s guess at this point.

  • dangermaus

    Ah. You certainly know more about the topic than me.
    I still think all of this is re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic, as they say… Meat is just a terrible place to try to try to save a few cents, and that’s what they’re all about. I hate that old saying “if you like sausage or laws, don’t watch either being made…” I like making sausage, and if I can’t see it being made, I like it a lot less.
    Still can’t stand Durbin.