In nine years, no positive results in regulatory tests for E coli O157:H7 have been found in 10,000 samples of dry and semi-dry fermented sausages and fully cooked meat patties.


As a result, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service has decided to divert the laboratory resources to more testing for E coli O157:H7 in raw products that pose a more immediate public health risk.

“We are suspending the testing in dry and semi-dry sausage while we reassess it,” says Brian K. Mabry, deputy director for congressional and public affairs at FSIS.  

FSIS announced this change in its testing regime for ready-to-eat products in its Constituent Update for Friday, May 13, which led off with information on two public hearings regarding catfish regulations that are set for May 24 and 26.

While test results have detected no contaminants in dry and semi-dry sausage and fully cooked meat patties, it does not mean those products are not the source of outbreaks and recalls.

Writing in his personal blog Tuesday, Bill Marler, the nationally known food safety attorney and publisher of Food Safety News, pointed to the multi-state E. coli outbreak earlier this year involving Seltzer’s Lebanon Bologna  At least 14 people were infected and 23,000 pounds of contaminated product was recalled.

“I hope this is progress,” Marler wrote of the clean test results, “although I am perplexed how stopping testing would help prevent the E. coli O157:H7 outbreak that the CDC and FSIS reported a few months ago (involving Seltzer’s).”

Marler said his foodborne illness Outbreak Database reports numerous other outbreaks and recalls of bologna, sausage, and salami.  Sometimes, however, it is not ready-to-eat meat that is the source of contamination, but coatings or ingredients added to the products, such as the Salmonella-tainted pepper blamed for the 2010 recall of Italian sausages.

  • Carole

    …”although I am perplexed how stopping testing would help prevent the E. coli O157:H7 outbreak that the CDC and FSIS reported a few months ago (involving Seltzer’s).”
    Because, Bill, the outbreak involving Seltzer’s did not include dry and semi-dry fermented sausages. Dry and fermented sausage by their nature are high in lactic acid, which are a specific subset of lunchmeats like bologna and other sausage and salami. The lactic acid prevents growth of harmful pathogens.
    In reading articles from this newsletter each week, I am very concerned that “safe” seems to mean “zero bacteria”. This is a completely false assumption.
    For example, in a recent article you mentiond Marler Clark has contracted to do testing on some foods and has been alarmed at the levels of bacteria found. Yet, there was no indication of what types of bacteria and at what levels (bacterial counts) you were expecting or would deem “safe”. If the answer is zero, then you are very, very misguided and merely replacing one problem with another. Sterile food (which the absence of all bacteria would indicate) is not “safe”.