Beef industry groups promise steps to combat E coli O157:H7

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Jan 10, 2003 (CIDRAP News) – Beef industry leaders attending a "summit" meeting on Escherichia coli O157:H7 this week announced plans to standardize meat safety testing at packing and processing plants and take other industry-wide steps to reduce E coli contamination in beef.

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA), which coordinated the summit meeting in San Antonio, Tex., announced the plan at the meeting Jan 8. The meeting brought together more than 200 representatives of all segments of the beef industry, from ranchers and feedlot operators to packers, grocers, foodservice operators, and restaurant chains, according to the NCBA, a trade and marketing association based in Denver.

In a news release, NCBA CEO Terry Stokes said the steps the industry is planning could eventually banish E coli from American beef. "Today, the leaders of our industry have taken unprecedented action to ensure that safe, wholesome U.S. beef becomes even safer," Stokes said. "I am confident that the farm-to-table solutions we've identified at this summit will help us further reduce and eventually eliminate E coli O157:H7 in the beef supply."

The NCBA said the steps and recommendations agreed on at the summit include the following:

  • Expanded research and fast-track approval of interventions such as cattle vaccines and feed additives
  • Standardization of safety testing and verification at packing plants
  • Uniform practice of sampling, testing, and "negative confirmation" of meat before processing
  • Microbial control systems for foodservice suppliers
  • Consumer information regarding cooking temperatures and thermometer use at point of purchase

These steps will supplement existing pathogen-control steps, including thermal pasteurization and carcass-washing systems, the NCBA said. The brief announcement gave no details on the plans or their timing or how they will be developed. Kim Essex, an NCBA spokeswoman in Denver, told CIDRAP News, "The next step was for the groups to take them [the plans] back to their own segment and find out what their game plan individually would be. The timing is not completely laid down yet."

A report on the American Meat Institute (AMI) Web site, meatingplace.com, said the plans include an agreement by 40 slaughterhouse operators to develop standard ways to test meat for E coli at six points in processing. Dell Allen, vice president of food safety and quality control at Excel Corp., said this agreement will allow packers to measure their performance against that of other operators, according to the report.

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