Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Under Secretary for Food Safety Elisabeth Hagen touted the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s decision to declare the six most common non-O157 serotypes of E. coli adulterants if they show up in non-intact raw beef.

They made their remarks during a briefing Tuesday, after the announcement was widely reported in the media Monday.

“The Obama Administration is committed to protecting our food supply and preventing illnesses before they happen,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Today’s announcement does exactly that by targeting and eliminating contaminated products from the market.”

The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) policy will make E. coli O26, O103, O45, O111, O121 and O145 illegal contaminates in raw non-intact beef — including ground beef, beef trim and tenderized steaks. USDA officials said Tuesday they will begin by testing beef trim, and then evaluate the next steps for testing.

“We’ll begin testing beef trim initially because that’s where we get the biggest bang for our buck,” Dr. Hagen told reporters. Beef trim is used to make ground beef.

“The impact of foodborne illness on a family can be devastating,” said Hagen. “Consumers deserve a modernized food safety system that focuses on prevention and protects them and their families from emerging threats. As non-O157 STEC (Shiga toxin-producing E. coli) bacteria have emerged and evolved, so too must our regulatory policies to protect the public health and ensure the safety of our food supply.”

Vilsack emphasized that USDA was acting preemptively instead of waiting for a devastating outbreak.

“Too often, we are caught reacting to a problem instead of preventing it,” said Vilsack. “This new policy will help stop problems before they start.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the six additional strains of E. coli being targeted cause approximately 113,000 illnesses and 300 hospitalizations annually in the United States.

As Food Safety News reported yesterday, the reaction from consumer groups has been unanimously positive, while meat industry groups maintain the policy is not based in science and will likely not benefit public health.