U.S.D.A. bans additional strains of E. coli

by Staff
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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Tuesday said it is banning six additional serogroups of E. coli, declaring them as adulterants in non-intact raw beef and banning them from entering the food supply.
The serogroups are 026, 0103, 045, 0111, 0121 and 0145. The U.S.D.A. said the strains may cause severe illness and death.

“The Obama administration is committed to protecting our food supply and preventing illnesses before they happen,” said Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. “Today’s announcement does exactly that by targeting and eliminating contaminated products from the market. Too often, we are caught reacting to a problem instead of preventing it. This new policy will help stop problems before they start.”

The new policy will go into effect on March 5 when the Food and Drug Administration will begin testing for the six serogroups and enforcing the measure. Those interested may submit comments within 60 days of publication in the Federal Register.

The new measure is part of an effort of the President’s Food Safety Working Group and the U.S.D.A. as they have been working on a new public health-focused approach to food safety based on prevention, strengthening surveillance and enforcement and improving response.

“The Food and Drug Administration applauds U.S.D.A. for taking this action to better protect consumers,” said Mike Taylor, F.D.A. deputy commissioner of foods. “We are committed to working with F.S.I.S. to prevent disease-causing non-0157 STEC bacteria in all foods. Through implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act, F.D.A. will continue to place prevention at the core of the efforts to improve the food safety system.”

Responding to the U.S.D.A.’s announcement, the American Meat Institute said it doesn’t believe the new regulation is supported by science.

“The U.S.D.A.’s desire to eliminate non-O157 shiga toxin-producing E. coli (nSTEC) from the U.S. beef supply is something the beef industry strongly shares,” said James H. Hodges, executive vice-president of the A.M.I. “But U.S.D.A.’s announcement today that it will soon be ‘illegal’ to have six strains of naturally occurring non-O157 E. coli in ground beef is premised upon the notion that the government can make products safe by banning a pathogen. That view is not supported by science.

“Perspective on this issue is badly needed. Non-O157 shiga toxin-producing E. coli have caused illnesses, but nSTEC in ground beef have only been directly linked to one outbreak involving three illnesses. Greater than 48 million foodborne illnesses occur in the U.S. annually, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. More than 100,000 human infections of nSTEC have been estimated and we know these were caused by a variety of food sources. Yet federal resources are being devoted only to beef products that has only been confirmed to cause three illnesses. While we all wish that number were zero, considering that more than a billion servings of ground beef are consumed annually, that is an excellent safety record.”

Mr. Hodges also said current technologies to destroy such pathogens have reduced occurrence dramatically, and with this new regulation the U.S.D.A. will spend its money testing for the strains instead of strategies to prevent the strains. He also said there is “no public health crisis” from the strains in question in ground beef.

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