After testing for Salmonella and E. coli on a variety of beef carcasses at slaughter plants, federal food safety authorities are saying that slaughter plant beef safety measures seem to be working well. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has released its data from the first six months of surveys meant to determine a baseline load of Salmonella and E. coli on beef and veal carcasses. For all varieties of pathogens tested, the rate of contamination dramatically fell after the animal and been slaughtered and bacterial kill-step interventions had taken place. For Salmonella, FSIS found 25.49 percent of beef carcasses contaminated with the bacteria before interventions. Afterward, contamination rates dropped to 3.92 percent. E. coli O157:H7 has long been the target of beef producers eager to limit its rates, which likely explains why it was found on only 1.6 percent of carcasses before interventions. After interventions, that number dropped to 1.07 percent. Non-O157 E. coli strains have more recently become a target for beef producers, following the USDA’s decision in 2012 to add six more E. coli strains to its list of adulterants in ground beef. Those six strains were found on 8.39 percent of pre-intervention carcasses and 1.78 percent after interventions. Popular intervention strategies include hot water washes, lactic acid washes, or chlorine-based washes — all of which occur after the carcass hide has been removed. Some processing plants may use one method, or a combination, or a completely different method, such as steam pasteurization or steam vacuuming. FSIS plans to release an official report in another six months after it has completed its year of surveying. “These results suggest that the interventions are reducing the pathogens on the beef and veal carcasses,” the agency stated. These surveys are preliminary work for FSIS leading up to the USDA’s 2017-21 Strategic Plan to prevent foodborne illness and modernize systems, policies, and science.
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