S.T.O.P. stands for Safe Tables Our Priority, a food safety advocacy group led by parents of children who’ve died from foodborne illnesses.
Parents who have lost children deliver a powerful impact. Last week, S.T.O.P. went public with a plea to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to ban six strains of E. coli as adulterants or impurities in beef in addition to O157:H7, the only strain that is currently considered an adulterant.
Like O157:H7, the other strains also cause illness and death and should not be tolerated in beef, S.T.O.P. said. Not since 1994, when it made O157:H7 an adulterant, has an E. coli strain been banned from beef.
The Clinton Administration put O157:H7 on the banned list after the 1993 Jack-in-the-Box outbreak left hundreds injured and caused several deaths across the western states.
The other shiga-toxin producing E coli strains also injure and kill people. The six strains–026, 0111, 0103, 0121, 045, and 0145–“pose a significant health threat,” according the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta.
Since 2000, public health officials have reported incidents of those non-O157 strains to CDC. Estimates are they cause 36,700 illnesses, 1,100 hospitalizations and 30 deaths annually.
If this all sounds familiar, it is. Last October, several victims of non-O157:H7 E. coli represented by the food safety law firm of Marler Clark, formally petitioned FSIS to list the other strains as adulterants.
The 470-page petition asks FSIS to declare the other six strains as adulterants under the Federal Meat Inspection Act, the same route that was taken to ban O157:H7.
After S.T.O.P made its Valentine’s Day plea to USDA, we checked in with Bill Marler on the petition, who provided us with a copy of a Jan. 27th letter from FSIS Assistant Administrator Philip S. Derfler in the Office of Policy and Program Development.
For S.T.O.P. and Marler’s non-O157:H7 E coli clients, the letter delivers good news and bad news. The good news is that Marler demanded and has been granted, “expedited review” of the petition.
The bad news is FSIS must first develop its own “validated laboratory method to detect and isolate certain non-O157 STEC groups of public health importance.”
“Although FSIS has granted your request for expedited review, the Agency cannot reach a decision on the substance of your petition until it has developed the laboratory capacity to detect and isolate various non-O157 STEC groups, ” Derfler wrote. “As noted above, the Agency has expedited its work in this area.”
More than two years ago, on Oct. 17,2007, FSIS held a public meeting on the other Shiga toxin producing strains of E. coli. The letter says that an FSIS group of scientists was formed after the meeting to study available data. Now in addition to developing the “validated laboratory method,” FSIS will put out a plan and seek public comment.
Expedited review, FSIS style.