Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture´s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) issued a press release announcing that it has posted a set of draft compliance guidelines to help small and very small meat and poultry manufacturers reduce harmful bacteria, such as Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes, in ready-to-eat (RTE) foods. The guidance aims to

In 1996, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service established the HACCP (hazard analysis and critical control points) rule to verify that establishments have consistent process control for preventing, eliminating, or reducing the contamination of raw meat and poultry products with disease-causing bacteria like Salmonella, E. coli O157:H7, and campylobacter.  The rule, in

West Missouri Beef, LLC has voluntarily recalled 14,000 pounds of boneless beef products due to potential contamination by E. coli O157:H7.  USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced the Class I recall in a press release last night.  It is the third Class I recall this year, and the fifth since November, adding up to 1,636,000 pounds of beef products that have been recalled due to potential E. coli O157:H7 contamination in the last 3+ months.

What is a Class I recall?

A Class I recall, according to FDA definitions, should occur when "there is a reasonable probability that the use of or exposure to a violative product will cause serious adverse health consequences or death."  Class II and III recalls are appropriate only when there is a significantly lesser, or remote, risk of adverse health consequences, or when the health consequences are minor.  Due to its lethal capacity, E. coli O157:H7 is a bacteria that always requires a Class I recall.

What is E. coli O157:H7?

Escherichia coli (E. coli) are members of a large group of bacterial germs that inhabit the intestinal tract of humans and other warm blooded animals (mammals, birds). Newborns have a sterile alimentary tract which within two days becomes colonized with E. coli.

More than 700 serotypes of E. coli have been identified. The different E. coli serotypes are distinguished by their “O” and “H” antigens on their bodies and flagella, respectively. The E. coli serotypes that are responsible for the numerous reports of contaminated foods and beverages are those that produce Shiga toxin (Stx), so called because the toxin is virtually identical to that produced by another bacteria known as Shigella dysenteria type 1 (that also causes bloody diarrhea and hemolytic uremic syndrome [HUS] in emerging countries like Bangladesh) (Griffin & Tauxe, 1991, p. 60, 73). The best known and most notorious Stx-producing E. coli is E. coli O157:H7. It is important to remember that most kinds of E. coli bacteria do not cause disease in humans, indeed, some are beneficial, and some cause infections other than gastrointestinal infections, such urinary tract infections. This section deals specifically with Stx-producing E. coli, including specifically E. coli O157:H7.

Shiga toxin is one of the most potent toxins known to man, so much so that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists it as a potential bioterrorist agent (CDC, n.d.). It seems likely that DNA from Shiga toxin-producing Shigella bacteria was transferred by a bacteriophage (a virus that infects bacteria) to otherwise harmless E. coli bacteria, thereby providing them with the genetic material to produce Shiga toxin.

Although E. coli O157:H7 is responsible for the majority of human illnesses attributed to E. coli, there are additional Stx-producing E. coli (e.g., E. coli O121:H19) that can also cause hemorrhagic colitis and post-diarrheal hemolytic uremic syndrome (D+HUS). HUS is a syndrome that is defined by the trilogy of hemolytic anemia (destruction of red blood cells), thrombocytopenia (low platelet count), and acute kidney failure.

Stx-producing E. coli organisms have several characteristics that make them so dangerous. They are hardy organisms that can survive several weeks on surfaces such as counter tops, and up to a year in some materials like compost. They have a very low infectious dose meaning that only a relatively small number of bacteria, less than 50, are needed “to set-up housekeeping” in a victim’s intestinal tract and cause infection.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that every year at least 2000 Americans are hospitalized, and about 60 die as a direct result of E. coli infections and its complications. A recent study estimated the annual cost of E. coli O157:H7 illnesses to be $405 million (in 2003 dollars) which included $370 million for premature deaths, $30 million for medical care, and $5 million for lost productivity (Frenzen, Drake, and Angulo, 2005).
 Continue Reading Class I Beef Recall due to E. coli Contamination

 Somebody has finally noticed.   In this case, the somebody is Tom Laskawy, a food and environment specialist, and what he has noticed is that President Obama has NOT yet nominated anybody as U.S. Department of Agriculture Undersecretary for Food Safety to run the Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS), the key federal agency for

For years, the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has allowed meat plants to divert meat that has tested positive for E. coli O157:H7 (or some other pathogen) to a further-processing facility where it is cooked for a time and at a temperature sufficient to kill the pathogens.  What FSIS has not done, however, is require immediate corrective action of the plant’s slaughter and sanitary dressing procedures so as to determine how the meat came to be contaminated in the first place.  Because, let us be clear: ground beef, trimmings, an intact cuts of meat do not get contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 unless the carcass is contaminated, or cross-contaminated, druing the slaughter or carcass-dressing process.  Bottom-line: Meat is not contaminated but for the manner of its slaughter and dressing. 

So lax has been the FSIS focus on and oversight of the slaughter and dressing process that it has routinely allowed plants to send meat that has tested presumptively positive for E. coli O157:H7 to be sent for further-processing without requiring that confrimatory testing be done.  This give the plant a free pass by avoiding a confirmed positive test result for E. coli O157:H7, something that would be higly likely to prompt a comprehenisve assessment at the plant, and the requirement that the plant’s HACCP plan be re-assessed and re-validated.  This also allows both the plant and FSIS to pretend that the Slaughter HACCP plan has not failed for not reduciing E. coli O157:H7 to an "undetectable level"–something that FSIS policy has required since October 7, 2002.

Now, if in reading the above the image of an ostrich with its head in the sand came to mind, then you are definitely grasping the gist of my criticism here.  But, that said, I am happy to report that FSIS finally seems to have pulled its proverbial head out of the sand and seen the light. 

Yesterday the agency issued FSIS Directive 6410.1, and it is a very good thing indeed.  For more on this, please hit the CONTINUED READING link.Continue Reading USDA Sees the Light on E. coli O157:H7 and Meat