Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) is calling on Congress to fund the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act and to pass new meat safety legislation.
Gillibrand’s bill aims to reduce “all high-risk pathogens” as well as all unregulated strains of E. coli found in the meat supply “that have been proven to cause food-borne illnesses.”
“How many more outbreaks will we allow, and how many more lives will we lose, before we wake up and take real action,” said Gillibrand in a statement Tuesday. “We’ve known the hazards of E. coli for years. It’s time we get serious, and keep contaminated food in check before it ever reaches a grocery store shelf or kitchen.”
According to Gillibrand’s office the bill would require plants that produce the cuts and trimmings that make ground beef to test their products regularly before it is ground and again before all the components are ground together
If ground beef tests positive, the bill requires the company to “properly dispose of the contaminated batch,” or cook the meat products to kill all bacteria.
The measure would also require foreign facilities to certify their product has been tested for E. coli to be eligible for importation into the country. The domestic facility receiving the product would be required to verify the results with secondary testing.
It would require slaughterhouses, producers and grinding facilities receiving trimmings to use independent testing facilities operating under annual contracts. “The requirement of an annual contract would prevent companies from firing a testing facility as retribution for too many positive E. coli test results found by the lab,” according to Gilibrand’s office.
The bill also sets a threshold of 25,000 lbs of trim per day for compliance implementation “to reduce the burden on small producers.” Producers under the threshold have 3 years before they must be in compliance with the new regulation, but Gillibrand’s office says around 90 percent of producers are above the threshold and 86 plants produce roughly 75 percent of all ground beef.
Under Gillibrand’s plan, habitual violators have to be listed on a public website and any slaughterhouse or processing establishment that produces or distributes trim with positive E. coli test results for 3 consecutive days, or more than 10 times per year, will be deemed a “habitual violator.”
On top of introducing the bill, Gillibrand sent Under Secretary for Food Safety at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Elisabeth Hagen, a letter urging the agency to declare additional strains of E. coli — beyond well-known E. coli O157: H7 – -as adulterants, making them illegal in meat products.
“In light of current scientific and medical research, the health hazards posed by Shiga Toxin producing E.coli (STECs) are undeniable,” wrote Gillibrand. “The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recognized these hazards in 2000 when the agency made all STEC nationally notifiable. Since reporting was implemented in 2001, instances of non-O157 STEC have steadily increased year by year.”
“Immediate action on this issue is critical,” she added.
A notice for rulemaking on the matter is currently stalled under review at the White House Office of Management and Budget.