The AP is carrying the story today of efforts of food safety advocates, including us here at Marler Clark, to push the USDA to include several strains of E. coli known to be pathogenic to humans in its testing requirements for ground beef.  E. coli O157:H7 is the most well known of a group of pathogenic E. coli that cause severe food poisoning type symptoms in humans.  These pathogenic bacteria, both O157 and non-O157, are also associated with severe, and potentially fatal complications, such as HUS.  Shannon Dininny, reporter, explains:

The food industry and government regulators have focused for years on finding the most virulent strain of E. coli bacteria, which every year sickens thousands.  But they don’t regularly test for six less-common E. coli strains that can cause illnesses equally as serious. Most recently, two dozen illnesses in four states were tied this spring to bagged romaine lettuce contaminated by an uncommon E. coli strain that can be difficult to detect.

The strain implicated in this years outbreak tied to Freshway lettuce was E. coli O145.  In 2008, hundreds in Oklahoma in an outbreak of E. coli O111 linked to a restaurant.  The outbreak was never traced to a single individual food item.   Among the ill was Marler Clark client Shiloh Johnson, who was hospitalized for six weeks.

In an effort to prevent such illnesses, Marler Clark has filed a petition with USDA asking that USDA classify six non-O157 strains of E. coli as adulterants, which would then require ground beef manufacturers to test for these strains.   Manufacturers are not currently required to test for these strains. 

The USDA has not issued a formal ruling on the petition.  The agency, for its part, claims that it is working on reliable tests to detect the six identified strains of E. coli.