Under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s soon-to-be-implemented policy on non-O157 E. coli, confirmed positives for O157 and the so-called “Big 6” strains of non-O157 Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) will be 5 to 10 times higher than currently for O157 alone, Dr. Mohammed Koohmaraie predicted before a recent meat industry conference.

According to the North American Meat Processors Association, which hosted the conference,  this means a significantly higher percentage of meat products will have to be diverted to cooking, and the cost of ground beef will go up. 
“Because the Big 6 non-O157 STECs are detected as a group of organisms (as opposed to one type of organism like O157), and because they lack unique characteristics, the first screening will find a large number of samples to be ‘potential positive,’ ” said Dr. Koohmaraie, CEO of the Meat Division at IEH Labs, according to this week’s NAMP newsletter.
Koohmaraie estimates a 4-10 percent positive range in beef trim. He said variation would occur due to the effectiveness of dressing procedures and interventions. “Regardless of how good a plant is, the number of potential positives will be substantially higher than for O157,” reported NAMP.
If positives go up, the value of trim/ground beef that tested positive will be driven down further, and “there will be a premium for trim that tested negative,” according to the industry group. “This will cause the price of ground beef to go up.”

NAMP further reported: “Koohmaraie has no doubt the list will grow to include other non-O157 STEC, so one day the industry will be dealing with more then the Big 6.”