"e. coli" "e. coli outbreak" "food poisoning"Cattlenetwork just reported that Wal-Mart, the biggest food retailer in the country, has taken a good step toward acheiving a significant reduction in E. coli contamination in the beef supply.  Cattlenetwork reports as follows:

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., will require its beef suppliers use stricter tests for E. coli and other sickness-causing bacteria after U.S. meat recalls rose in recent years.

Beef suppliers must “significantly reduce potential contamination levels” and meet Wal-Mart’s new standards by June 2012, the Bentonville, Ark.-based company said in a statement today. The new standards also apply to suppliers for Wal-Mart’s Sam’s Club stores.

Wal-Mart’s heightened standards will provide an “additional layer” of protection for consumers beyond E. coli tests the meat industry already does, said Frank Yianna, Wal-Mart’s vice president for food safety.

“If you look at food recalls over the past two years, there’s been a significant increase,” Yianna said in a phone interview. “This is really a response to long-term trends in beef recalls.”

As the top U.S. food retailer, Wal-Mart’s new requirements are sure to affect many of the country’s biggest beef processors. Wal-Mart has “dozens” of beef suppliers, Yianna said, though he declined to name any.

Wal-Mart’s beef suppliers will be required to validate that the measures they’ve implemented are effective through specialized testing, today’s statement said.

Suppliers that don’t operate slaughterhouses must be in compliance with the new standards by June 2011, Wal-Mart said. Those that operate slaughterhouses have until June 2012.

If suppliers don’t meet the new standards, “we will stop doing business with them,” Yiannas said. “It is our intent that this is a firm deadline.”