Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced that the USDA has completed "tough new food safety standards for ground beef purchased by the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) for Federal food and nutrition assistance programs including school lunches." See USDA Press Release.
According to the AMS release, the new standards will (1) continue the zero tolerance policy for E. coli O157:H7 and Salmonella; (2) tighten microbiological testing protocols; (3) tighten the microbiological upper specification and critical limits; (4) increase microbiological sampling frequency for finished products to every 15 minutes; and, (5) institute additional rejection criteria for source trimmings used to manufacture AMS purchased ground beef. AMS will also consider any vendor classified by FSIS as having a long term poor safety record as an ineligible vendor until a complete cause-and-effect analysis is completed.
Bad timing for the AMS announcement? There is, of course, an ongoing investigation into a recent outbreak of E. coli O145 associated with romaine lettuce that has caused 23 confirmed and 7 probable illnesses in New York, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee. Freshway Foods, of Sidney, Ohio, has recalled implicated lettuce products from 23 states and the District of Columbia.
Of course, as has been discussed time and time again, this E. coli O145 outbreak highlights a serious public health problem that Secretary Vilsack, the government generally, and food producers too have done very little to combat: there are many other devastating strains of E. coli than E. coli O157:H7; they are increasingly being seen in our food supply; and not only should the AMS be protecting kids from E. coli O157:H7, but also from the other dangerous strains of E. coli too.