Header graphic for print
Food Poison Journal Food Poisoning Outbreaks and Litigation: Surveillance and Analysis

Food Policy & Regulation

Subscribe to the Food Policy & Regulation Section RSS Feed

Senate Legislation To Deem Salmonella An Adulterant

L-0044559In the wake of a devastating investigation aired last night by PBS’ Frontline of the American food safety system and the millions of preventable food-borne illnesses contracted each year, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand introduced the Meat and Poultry Recall Notification Act to finally provide the USDA mandatory recall authority over contaminated meat and poultry. The Frontline report documents the spread of dangerous contaminants through poultry processors and how regulators are failing to prevent the illnesses they cause. An estimated 3 million New Yorkers annually become sick from food they consume, and approximately one in six Americans annual become sick from foodborne disease.

“Our food safety system is failing to protect Americans, leaving thousands of people hospitalized every year with preventable illnesses,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Poultry and meat known to be contaminated should never end up in market fridges and freezers or our kitchens. The USDA must have the authority to recall products that test positive for contaminants, and consumers need to know when food has been recalled.”

“It is time to treat all bacteria and viruses that sicken U.S. consumers the same,” said Bill Marler, the nation’s leading foodborne illness attorney. “They should be banned from both imports and from food produced in the U.S.  Banning these bugs from our food supply would save both consumers and the food industry billions of dollars in medical and recall costs.”

The Meat and Poultry Recall Notification Act would improve consumer awareness in the event of a high priority food safety recall of meat, poultry and egg products by:

  • Giving USDA mandatory recall authority.
  • Encouraging retailers’ use of frequent shopper/shopper reward cards that monitor purchases to notify customers who may have purchased recalled products.
  • Creating a 1-page Recall Summary Notice that could be prominently displayed at points of sale in retail outlets that sold a recalled product or on the store shelf where a product was sold.

Gillibrand’s legislation will give the Secretary of Agriculture mandatory recall authority for meat, poultry, and some egg products currently under USDA jurisdiction. Under the proposed bill, the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) would be granted authority to require companies to recall contaminated food and notify all related persons to cease all activities related to the recalled food. FSIS would have the authority to notify consumers and state and local health officials of an ongoing recall.

In the event of food borne illness or the detection of an adulterated or unsafe product, Gillibrand’s proposal would allow the USDA to recommend a voluntary recall of a product to a manufacturer, importer, distributor, or retailer. If the request is refused, the Secretary can issue a mandatory recall and notify affected processors, packers, retail outlets, and the public. USDA will issue a Recall Summary Notice to all retail outlets that sold a recalled product. This Notice would be displayed at all cash registers or at the shelf location where the recalled product was presented for sale. Those retail outlets that use customer card systems to track customer purchases and demographics could call or email each customer that purchased a recalled food product or make available to each customer a targeted coupon with information about the recalled product. Penalties can be assessed for refusal to comply with a recall.

According the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates, nearly a quarter of all cut-up chicken parts are contaminated by Salmonella and another Consumer Reports study found that one third of all chicken breast with Salmonella carry a drug resistant strain of the disease.

USDA Finalizes Rule to Require Labeling of Mechanically Tenderized Beef Products

New labels and cooking instructions will give consumers information they need  to safely enjoy these products

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) today announced new labeling requirements for raw or partially cooked beef products that have been mechanically tenderized. Consumers, restaurants, and other food service facilities will now have more information about the products they are buying, as well as useful cooking instructions so they know how to safely prepare them.

“Labeling mechanically tenderized beef products and including cooking instructions on the package are important steps in helping consumers to safely prepare these products,” said Deputy Under Secretary Al Almanza. “This common sense change will lead to safer meals and fewer foodborne illnesses.”

These new requirements will become effective in May 2016, or one year from the date of the rule’s publication in the Federal Register. Because of the public health significance of this change, FSIS is accelerating the effective date instead of waiting until the next Uniform Compliance Date for Food Labeling Regulations, which is January 1, 2018.

Product tenderness is a key selling point for beef products. To increase tenderness, some cuts of beef are tenderized mechanically by piercing them with needles or small blades in order to break up tissue. This process, however, can introduce pathogens from the surface of the cut to the interior, making proper cooking very important.

The potential presence of pathogens in the interior of these products means they should be cooked differently than intact cuts. FSIS is finalizing these new labeling requirements because mechanically tenderized products look no different than intact product, but it is important for consumers to know that they need to handle them differently.

Under this rule, these products must bear labels that state that they have been mechanically, blade or needle tenderized. The labels must also include validated cooking instructions so that consumers know how to safely prepare them. The instructions will have to specify the minimum internal temperatures and any hold or “dwell” times for the products to ensure that they are fully cooked.

Since 2000, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has received reports of six outbreaks attributable to needle or blade tenderized beef products prepared in restaurants and consumers’ homes. Failure to thoroughly cook a mechanically tenderized raw or partially cooked beef product was a significant contributing factor in each of these outbreaks. FSIS predicts that the changes brought about by this rule could prevent hundreds of illnesses every year.

SENATORS URGE FULL FUNDING FOR FOOD SAFETY IN WAKE OF RECALLS FOLLOWING LISTERIA OUTBREAK

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Following one of the most sweeping food recalls in history by Blue Bell Creameries and yesterday’s announcement of a recall of potentially contaminated pasta salad at Hy-Vee stores across the Midwest, 7 Senators joined today in urging the Senate Appropriations Committee to fully fund the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) food safety activities authorized by the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). Since it was signed into law in 2011, the FSMA has been underfunded by less than half the amount it needs for full implementation.

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) was joined by the following Senators in sending today’s letter: U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Diane Feinstein (D-CA), Al Franken (D-MN), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Brian Schatz (D-HI).

“[The Food Safety Modernization Act] was enacted to bring our nation’s food safety system into the 21st century by enabling our agencies to prevent food contamination rather than reacting once illnesses have occurred. Prevention is key given that food borne pathogens cause an estimated 48 million illnesses and 3,000 deaths annually,” the Senators wrote.

“Providing the President’s requested increase of $109.5 million would enable FDA to retrain inspectors in the new prevention-based oversight system; hire technical experts to assist growers and food manufacturers to understand and comply with the new requirements; and build the new comprehensive food import oversight system provided for in the law.”

The FSMA included a provision establishing a “Preventive Controls” rule that was specifically designed to reduce the impact of food borne pathogens. The rule, which has yet to be finalized, would require food manufacturers to identify and implement preventive control measures, such as increased factory testing, to help catch pathogens like Listeria before entering the supply chain. According to the Senators, “Having measures like this in place, and the funding to ensure their understanding and compliance, are absolutely necessary to prevent future life-threatening outbreaks and costly recalls.”

On April 20, Blue Bell Creameries voluntarily expanded its recall to include all products due to potential Listeria contamination. The Centers for Disease Control reported that at least ten patients were hospitalizes and three deaths have been linked to the contamination. Late yesterday, news broke that Hy-Vee Inc. was recalling Hy-Vee Summer Fresh Pasta because of a potential Listeria contamination.

Consumer Federation of America Issues Analysis of USDA Meat and Poultry Inspection Program, Recommendations for Improvement

Consumer Federation of America (CFA) today released an in-depth analysis of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) primary meat and poultry food safety regulatory program. The report found that while the program has resulted in benefits to public health, further progress has been hindered by gaps in the program and by a legal challenge which has constrained robust action.

The program, known as the Pathogen Reduction/Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (PR/HACCP) regulation, was implemented following the 1993 outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 illnesses and deaths linked to undercooked hamburgers sold at Jack in the Box restaurants in the northwestern United States. The PR/HACCP regulation, which went into effect in 1998, requires meat and poultry plants to develop food safety systems in which plants take steps to identify and prevent contamination of meat and poultry products.

CFA’s report, titled “The Promise and Problems of HACCP: A Review of USDA’s Approach to Meat and Poultry Safety” traces the history of USDA’s implementation of the PR/HACCP regulation and identifies gaps which have hindered the ability of the regulation to fully protect consumers.

Specifically, the report cites two examples of ongoing problems which have not been adequately addressed in the 17 years since the regulation first took effect:

  • Too often plants have failed to develop effective food safety plans while USDA has failed to adequately identify problems with those plans.
  • Plants are repeatedly cited for reoccurring food safety violations with little consequence.

These gaps have continued to occur and have often been identified in the wake of large, nationwide foodborne illness outbreaks, yet the problems have not been adequately addressed. CFA recommends that USDA develop better approaches to reviewing plant food safety plans, including requiring that plants be required to prevent specific pathogens; and that USDA establish clear procedures to address reoccurring violations and when to take increased enforcement action.

The report also identifies how a court case brought against USDA by meat processor Supreme Beef in 1999 has hindered how USDA enforces its food safety regulations. In particular, the court case (Supreme Beef v USDA) limited the ability of USDA to enforce its regulations, effectively barring the government from shutting down a plant which fails to meet safety standards for Salmonella. Consumer groups have argued since that Congress should provide USDA with explicit authority to set and enforce food safety performance standards.
“USDA needs to provide better assurance that plants are reducing contamination of meat and poultry products and that the agency is effectively enforcing its regulations,” said Chris Waldrop, Director of the Food Policy Institute at Consumer Federation of America. “Enforceable standards would allow the agency to take decisive action when a problem is first identified rather than after an outbreak has already occurred.”

The report is available at www.consumerfed.org/pdfs/150424_CFA-HACCP_report.pdf.

12 with E. coli in Canada – Who made the salad?

Canada’s Public Health Agency is investigating an outbreak of E. col O157:H7 possibly linked to leafy greens (lettuces, kale, spinach, arugula or chard).

According to a statement released by the agency on Wednesday, there are currently 12 people sickened in four provinces (Alberta, 9; Saskatchewan, 1; Ontario, 1, and Newfoundland and Labrador, 1). Illness onset dates range from March 13-31, 2015.

The agency indicated that no specific food product had yet been identified as the source and that the investigation is continuing in collaboration with federal and provincial public health officials. When and if the source is identified, the agency will inform the public and make sure that the contaminated product is promptly removed from the marketplace.

It does leave you with the question of who made the salad?  Was it grown in the United Sates or Canada?

What’s up with Eggs, Salmonella and Jail?

B9316966527Z.1_20150413221312_000_G5LAGF96P.1-0-300x300I spent some time this last week explaining Salmonella and Eggs – and Jail Time – to the media.

  • Bill Marler, an acclaimed food safety lawyer whose firm represented a group of more than 100 people who were sickened in the salmonella outbreak, said before the sentence was announced that he “wouldn’t be surprised” if the DeCosters didn’t get any jail time.
  • Marler, who also represented the plaintiffs in the cantaloupe case, believes this shift toward punishing executives more harshly “wakes people up” to the issues at stake, and may even help prevent future fraudulence in the food industry.
  • “Knowing CEOs can go to jail has more impact on behavior than a lawsuit that ends up being paid off by an insurance company,” he said in June, after the DeCosters pleaded guilty. This week, he told the Associated Press that recent prosecutions in this area have definitely made an impression on the food producers he meets.
  • “The sentence sends an extremely strong message to food producers that the U.S. Attorney is going to look very hard at these kinds of outbreaks,” Marler said in a phone interview Monday.
  • “I wouldn’t be surprised if the judge didn’t sentence them to jail, but I’d be disappointed,” food safety lawyer Bill Marler, whose firm represented more than 100 people sickened in the outbreak, said ahead of sentencing.
  • Even if the DeCosters hadn’t received jail sentences, Marler said he believes the case along with several other high-profile prosecutions in food cases has made an impression on food producers he meets at conferences or in courtrooms.
  • “These criminal prosecutions send a message to the industry that the kind of behaviors that the DeCosters were into are not going to be tolerated,” said Bill Marler, a managing partner with Seattle-based Marler Clark, who represented nearly 100 victims of the salmonella outbreak linked to the DeCosters. “The fact that these criminal investigations and indictments are happening may well be the thing that makes our food supply safer.”
  • Bill Marler, dubbed “the most powerful food safety attorney” by The New Yorker, attributes the outbreaks to two main factors. One: It is “unclear as to who is responsible for oversight.” And two: The bacteria is simply endemic to poultry. Marler’s firm represents more than a hundred people sickened in the Quality Egg outbreak, which the CDC says caused 1,939 known illnesses, but could have actually hit as many as 56,000 people. The company’s “litany of shameful conduct,” as US District Judge Mark Bennett called it, included knowingly shipping eggs with falsified processing and expiration dates and at least two instances of bribing a USDA inspector. In addition to the three-month sentences for the DeCosters, each paid $100,000 in fines and the company paid $6.8 million as part of a plea agreement.
  • The lack of clarity around regulation is in part to blame, Marler says, a problem highlighted in The New Yorker profile:  In the U.S., responsibility for food safety is divided among fifteen federal agencies. The most important, in addition to the F.S.I.S., is the Food and Drug Administration, in the Department of Health and Human Services. In theory, the line between these two should be simple: the F.S.I.S. inspects meat and poultry; the F.D.A. covers everything else. In practice, that line is hopelessly blurred. Fish are the province of the F.D.A.—except catfish, which falls under the F.S.I.S. Frozen cheese pizza is regulated by the F.D.A., but frozen pizza with slices of pepperoni is monitored by the F.S.I.S. Bagel dogs are F.D.A.; corn dogs, F.S.I.S. The skin of a link sausage is F.D.A., but the meat inside is F.S.I.S.
  • Eggs, Marler says, are like the pepperoni pizza—they fall in a gray area between multiple agencies. Plus, when it comes to chickens, salmonella is just very common, and not confined to factory farms. Marler says even his own backyard chickens might have it.

USDA Awards 36 Food Safety Grants, Including $6.7 Million for Antimicrobial Resistance, to Protect Consumers

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) today announced funding awards totaling nearly $19 million, including more than $6.7 million for antimicrobial resistance strategies, to 36 grantees to ensure a safe and nutritious food supply and while maintaining American agricultural competitiveness. NIFA made the awards through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), which is authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill.

“Increasing food safety continues to be a major focus for USDA, as it directly impacts the health and well-being of all Americans,” said Sonny Ramaswamy, NIFA director. “Funding provided to universities supports discoveries of new ways that we can prevent foodborne illnesses and increase the safety of our food production industry.”

NIFA made the awards through the AFRI Food Safety program to protect consumers from microbial and chemical contaminants that may occur in the food chain, from production to consumption. This year, AFRI’s Food Safety program is comprised of five sub-programs. The following projects have been selected for awards in each sub-program:

Enhancing Food Safety through Improved Processing Technologies

  • University of Arkansas, Pine Bluff, Ark. $149,000
  • Tennessee State University, Nashville, Tenn., $500,000
  • University of Maine, Orono, Maine, $900,000
  • University of California, Davis, Calif., $751,000
  • Michigan State University, East Lansing, Mich., $700,000

Effective Mitigation Strategies for Antimicrobial Resistance

  • Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colo., $749,838
  • University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla., $2,193,556
  • University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minn., $2,250,000
  • Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, N.C., $15,000
  • Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, $16,500
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Va., $750,000
  • Washington State University, Pullman, Wash., $749,993

Identifying and Targeting Food Safety Needs

  • Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, Ill., $50,000

Improving Food Safety

  • University of Connecticut, Mansfield, Conn., $49,744
  • University of South Florida, Tampa, Fl., $499,972
  • Emory University, Atlanta, Ga., $499,968
  • University of Hawaii, Honolulu, Hawaii, $499,516
  • University of Maine, Orono, Maine, $150,000
  • University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Mass., $499,567
  • University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minn., $500,000
  • University of Nevada-Reno, Reno, Nev., $150,000
  • Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., $979,761
  • North Dakota State University, Fargo, N.D., $172,339
  • The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, $50,000
  • University of California, Davis, Calif., $499,812

Improving Food Quality

  • University of California, Davis, Calif., $498,356
  • University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla., $499,652
  • University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho, $248,408
  • University of Illinois, Champaign, Ill., $861,714
  • Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind., $465,694
  • Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, $420,685
  • University of Maine, Orono, Maine, $46,293
  • University of Maryland, Princess Anne, Md., $149,998
  • University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Mass., $499,977
  • Michigan State University, East Lansing, Mich., $489,528
  • West Virginia University, Morgantown, W.V., $435,353

This year’s projects include Washington State University’s efforts to discover causes and solutions for AMR impact on dairy farms and calf-rearing ranches by researching the effects of different antibiotics on AMR prevalence, the existence of AMR reservoirs and niches, and the maintenance and spread of AMR throughout the farms and ranches. Tennessee State University researchers will focus on implementing a holistic roadmap for accelerating the innovation process in irradiation research, guiding technology development for contaminant treatment. West Virginia University researchers aim to develop innovative protein sources for the growing population by repurposing protein from underutilized resources, specifically the water-soluble proteins from fish processing byproducts that contain mineral, amino acid, and fatty acid profiles. A complete list of this year’s project descriptions is available on the NIFA website.

Successful projects funded in previous years include a project at the University of Nebraska to reduce the occurrence of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) along the entire beef production pathway, a development of microwave pasteurization technology at Washington State University to reduce pathogens and extend shelf-life of processed foods, efforts at the University of California-Davis to understand how pathogens survive on and infect fresh produce, and a project at Georgia Tech looking at new methods of Salmonella detection.

The purpose of AFRI is to support research, education, and extension work by awarding grants that address key problems of national, regional, and multi-state importance in sustaining all components of food and agriculture. AFRI is NIFA’s flagship competitive grant program authorized under the 2014 Farm Bill and supports work in six priority areas: 1) plant health and production and plant products; 2) animal health and production and animal products; 3) food safety, nutrition and health; 4) bioenergy, natural resources and environment; 5) agriculture systems and technology; and 6) agriculture economics and rural communities.

The Farm Bill builds on historic economic gains in rural America over the past six years, while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for taxpayers. Since enactment, USDA has made significant progress to implement each provision of this critical legislation, including providing disaster relief to farmers and ranchers; strengthening risk management tools; expanding access to rural credit; funding critical research; establishing innovative public-private conservation partnerships; developing new markets for rural-made products; and investing in infrastructure, housing and community facilities to help improve quality of life in rural America. For more information, visit www.usda.gov/farmbill.

Through federal funding and leadership for research, education and extension programs, NIFA focuses on investing in science and solving critical issues impacting people’s daily lives and the nation’s future. For more information, visit www.nifa.usda.gov.

Judge Orders Seafood Company Closed Due to Listeria and Botulism Risks

Star SeafoodAt the request of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, a judge has ordered L.A. Star Seafood Company Inc., located in Los Angeles, and its owners, Sima and Sam Goldring, to halt operations until they demonstrate to the FDA that they can process food in compliance with food safety laws and regulations.

In 2012, at the FDA’s request, the company recalled some of its products due to potential contamination. In 2013, the FDA inspected the L.A. Star facility, and sent the company a warning letter detailing steps the company must take to comply with the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and Current Good Manufacturing Practice requirements. In 2014, another inspection of the L.A. Star facility documented the company and its owners’ continued failure to comply with the law.

The consent decree of permanent injunction requires L.A. Star to control for the presence of Listeria monocytogenes (L. mono) and Clostridium botulinum (C. bot), two disease-causing bacteria. The consent decree also requires the company to devise and implement Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point plans and Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures, and train staff in both.

L. mono is a foodborne pathogen that can cause serious illness or even death in vulnerable groups such as newborns, elderly adults and those with impaired immune systems. C. bot, a bacterium that can grow in seafood products, causes botulism, which is rare, but can cause paralysis and death without prompt treatment. The purpose of food safety regulations is, in part, to prevent the growth and spread of L. mono, C. bot and other microorganisms that cause foodborne illness.

Hepatitis A Vaccines for Employees is Cheap Insurance

Last Friday, the Erie County Department of Health announced two precautionary public health clinics in response to the recent identification of the hepatitis A virus in a local restaurant worker, a server at Casa di Pizza on Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo. The health department also warned the public that they should watch for symptoms of Hepatitis A for 50 days after their visit. If they start having Hepatitis A symptoms they should call their healthcare immediately and tell them they may have exposed to Hepatitis in Buffalo. Anyone experiencing Hepatitis A symptoms should contact their healthcare provider immediately.

Hardly a month passes without a warning from a health department somewhere that an infected food handler is the source of yet another potential hepatitis A outbreak. Absent vaccinations of food handlers, combined with an effective and rigorous hand-washing policy, there will continue to be more hepatitis A outbreaks. It is time for health departments across the country to require vaccinations of food-service workers, especially those who serve the very young and the elderly.

Hepatitis A is a communicable disease that spreads from person-to-person. It is spread almost exclusively through fecal-oral contact, generally from person-to-person, or via contaminated food or water. Hepatitis A is the only foodborne illness that is vaccine-preventable. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), since the inception of the vaccine, rates of infection have declined 92 percent.

The CDC estimates that 83,000 cases of hepatitis A occur in the United States every year, and that many of these cases are related to food-borne transmission. In 1999, more than 10,000 people were hospitalized due to hepatitis A infections, and 83 people died. In 2003, 650 people became sickened, four died, and nearly 10,000 people got IG (immunoglobulin) shots after eating at a Pennsylvania restaurant. Not only do customers get sick, but also businesses lose customers or some simply go out of business.

Although CDC has not yet called for mandatory vaccination of food-service workers, it has repeatedly pointed out that the consumption of worker-contaminated food is a major cause of foodborne illness in the U.S.

Hepatitis A continues to be one of the most frequently reported, vaccine-preventable diseases in the U.S., despite FDA approval of hepatitis A vaccine in 1995. Widespread vaccination of appropriate susceptible populations would substantially lower disease incidence and potentially eliminate indigenous transmission of hepatitis A infections. Vaccinations cost about $50. The major economic reason that these preventive shots have not been used is because of the high turnover rate of food-service employees. Eating out becomes a whole lot less of a gamble if all food-service workers faced the same requirement.

According to CDC, the costs associated with hepatitis A are substantial. Between 11 percent and 22 percent of persons who have hepatitis A are hospitalized. Adults who become ill lose an average of 27 days of work. Health departments incur substantial costs in providing post-exposure prophylaxis to an average of 11 contacts per case. Average costs (direct and indirect) of hepatitis A range from $1,817 to $2,459 per case for adults and from $433 to $1,492 per case for children younger than 18. In 1989, the estimated annual direct and indirect costs of hepatitis A in the U.S. were more than $200 million, equivalent to more than $300 million in 1997 dollars.  A new CDC report shows that, in 2010, slightly more than 10 percent of people between the ages of 19 and 49 got a hepatitis A shot.

Vaccinating an employee make sense.  It is moral to protect customers from an illness that can cause serious illness and death. Vaccines also protect the business from the multi-million-dollar fallout that can come if people become ill or if thousands are forced to stand in line to be vaccinated to prevent a more serious problem.

Marler Clark, The Food Safety Law Firm, is the nation’s leading law firm representing victims of Hepatitis A outbreaks. The Hepatitis A lawyers of Marler Clark have represented thousands of victims of Hepatitis A and other foodborne illness outbreaks and have recovered over $600 million for clients. Marler Clark is the only law firm in the nation with a practice focused exclusively on foodborne illness litigation. Our Hepatitis A lawyers have litigated Hepatitis A cases stemming from outbreaks traced to a variety of sources, such as green onions, lettuce and restaurant food. The law firm has brought Hepatitis A lawsuits against such companies as Subway, McDonald’s, Chipotle, Quiznos and Carl’s Jr.

USDA Releases Strategies to Reduce E. coli Levels at Beef Slaughterhouses

Posted by Philip Bronstein, FSIS Senior Microbiologist, on March 12, 2015

Reduction of E. coli O157 illnesses since the mid-1990’s has been one of the Food Safety and Inspection Service’s greatest public health successes, with illnesses having dropped by over 50% since 1998.  While overall illnesses are down significantly, the most recently available outbreak data shows a slight increase in illnesses from this dangerous pathogen.  FSIS’ Strategic Performance Working Group (SPWG) has released a six-point strategy to turn the trend back in the right direction.

The Strategic Performance Working Group includes professionals from across FSIS, including field personnel, microbiologists, and policymakers who come together periodically to tackle serious and stubborn challenges that limit the Agency’s successful performance of its mission.  The SPWG previously developed the Salmonella Action Plan, which has been the agency’s blueprint for tackling Salmonella since December 2013.  Now the SPWG is also recommending a multipronged approach to address pathogenic E. coli in beef slaughterhouses.

The SPWG determined that a reduction in O157 could be achieved in two ways.  First, the Agency needs to improve how FSIS inspection personnel verify plant performance of sanitary dressing procedures through better training, more correlations, and developing a standard to assess industry’s performance of sanitary dressing. Drawing on the experience of its members, the SPWG also stated that the training would be most effective if it included photographs and real-world scenarios to effectively illustrate the issues discussed in the documents.

Second, the SPWG recommended improving the information available to industry on how sanitary dressing should be performed.  The SPWG said the Agency could do so by publishing a guide containing suggestions for best practices.

More detailed information about the SPWG’s findings and recommendations mentioned here can be found on the FSIS website at Strategic Performance Working Group: Shiga Toxin-Producing E. coli Findings.  We are confident in this approach and look forward to being able to report lower illness numbers as a result of this report and future issues that the SPWG will work to address.