WASHINGTON – The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the US Department of Agriculture is seeking comments on the agency’s plan to expand its routine verification testing for six Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) that are adulterants, in addition to E. coli O157:H7, to additional raw beef products.

The additional products that will be sampled at official establishments include ground beef, bench trim, and raw ground beef components other than raw beef manufacturing trimmings such as head meat; cheek meat; weasand (esophagus) meat; product from advanced meat recovery (AMR) systems; partially defatted chopped beef and partially defatted beef fatty tissue; low-temperature rendered lean finely textured beef; and heart meat.

The agency also intends to test for non-O157 STEC in ground beef samples that it collects at retail stores and in applicable samples it collects of imported raw beef products. FSIS first announced its intention to expand testing on Sept. 20, 2011 in a Federal Register announcement.

“In support of this determination, the agency cited evidence of these non-O157 STEC organisms’ high pathogenicity, low infectious dose, transmissibility from person to person, and thermal resistance high enough to survive ordinary cooking,” FSIS said.

FSIS estimated the annual cost for testing beef manufacturing trimmings for non-O157 STEC at $42.2 million ($0.1 million to FSIS, and $42.1 million to the industry). The estimated cost of expanding non-O157 STEC testing to all other raw beef products is $6.4 million ($0.5 million to FSIS and $5.9 million to the industry).

FSIS also estimated the benefit from reduced outbreak-related recalls to be at least $51.6 million per year. The total benefit of FSIS testing for non-O157 STEC outweighs the total cost, the agency concluded.

“The estimated benefits of the new testing are reduced illnesses and deaths, reduced outbreak-related recalls, and improved business practices,” FSIS said. “Through recall investigations, FSIS and industry are able to determine process failures to help establishments take corrective actions to prevent future contamination and investigation can serve as the basis for education that will benefit the entire industry as well as regulatory organizations.”

August 3 is the deadline for comments on the updated plan to expand Non-O157 STEC testing. The Federal Register notice can be found here.