WASHINGTON — Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York plans to introduce the "E. coli eradication act," legislation that would require all facilities manufacturing ground beef to test their product "regularly" before it is ground and again before it is combined with other beef or ingredients.
If ground beef is found to be contaminated a company would be required to dispose of the batch or cook it to a temperature that kills the E. coli. Penalties for companies that do not implement the additional testing mechanisms in processing facilities also will be included in the legislation.
The bill is to be introduced soon, according to Ms. Gillibrand’s office.
Responding to the news of pending legislation, J. Patrick Boyle, president and chief executive officer of the American Meat Institute, said if the beef industry could eliminate E. coli O157:H7 in ground beef by passing a bill in Congress, it would have insisted such legislation be enacted years ago.
"Unfortunately, it’s not that easy," he said.
Mr. Boyle said he appreciates the intent of Ms. Gillibrand’s proposed effort, but not only is it not a food-safety silver bullet, it would actually duplicate tests currently being conducted by the meat industry.
The most effective way to address E. coli O157:H7 and other pathogens is to use food-safety strategies throughout the production process, from the farm to the table, Mr. Boyle continued.
"By erecting multiple ‘bacteria roadblocks’ throughout the production and distribution system, such as hide cleaners, carcass washes and steam pasteurization cabinets, ensuring proper refrigeration during distribution and maintaining careful separation of raw and cooked foods and proper cooking of ground beef in restaurants and home kitchens, there is a far better chance of product safety than additional testing for invisible pathogens will provide," he said.
Mr. Boyle also stressed there are limits to the effectiveness of testing.
"The test result is only a sample," he said. "A measured sample of the ground beef ingredients is pulled from a container of beef and sent to a lab and tested. The testing process destroys the sample.
"When the results come back, the test results document will sometimes say something such as ‘These results apply only to the sample that was tested.’ Sampling other portions of the container may yield a different result."
He added that the product in the grocery store has been sampled, not tested. Although U.S.D.A. and the industry take thousands of ground-beef samples and test them for E. coli, there is no tested product in the marketplace because the product is destroyed during the testing process. FSM