US inspections of Canadian meat return to normal

Nov 28, 2007 (CIDRAP News) – The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) says it is returning its inspections and testing of Canadian meat and poultry products to normal levels after finding no problems during expanded monitoring over the past 2½ weeks.

The USDA had approximately doubled inspections and pathogen testing of Canadian meat and poultry products Nov 9 in the wake of concerns this fall about Escherichia coli O157:H7 in beef from an Alberta facility and findings from a USDA audit of Canadian packing plants in May and June.

In a Nov 27 letter to Canadian officials, Dr. William James of the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) said the agency would resume normal levels of examinations of Canadian meat and poultry products and pasteurized egg products today. James is acting assistant administrator of the FSIS Office of International Affairs.

In addition, FSIS planned to return to a normal testing regimen for Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella in ready-to-eat products, James said in his letter to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).

James also said the agency would continue E coli testing of certain beef products that hadn't been tested before the expanded program: raw beef trim, boxed beef, and "subprimal" cuts normally destined for grinding. "Testing for E coli O157:H7 will proceed at levels to be determined after completion of an analysis of eligible imported beef products from all equivalent countries," he wrote.

He said the increased testing "has not revealed any problems with Canadian products exported to the United States."

James also reported reassuring results from recent audits the FSIS conducted in Canada, in part as a result of the linkage of beef trim from Rancher's Beef of Balzac, Alta., with E coli in ground beef sold by Topps Meat Co. of Elizabeth, N.J. Topps meat was tied to an E coli outbreak in September, causing the company to recall 21.7 million pounds of ground beef and subsequently go out of business.

The FSIS audited the CFIA's investigation of practices at Rancher's Beef and "recall events" related to that company. In addition, the FSIS reviewed seven Canadian establishments that previously had been flagged for problems, plus others that were similar to Rancher's Beef in their operations, James said.

"The audits indicated the unsafe practices in Rancher's Beef were not employed by other establishments, and that corrective actions were in place in the seven establishments identified in the audit earlier this year," he wrote.

See also:

Letter from Dr. William James to the CFIA
http://www.fsis.usda.gov/PDF/Canada_O157_Resume_Normal_Testing_Letter.pdf

Nov 21 CIDRAP News story "USDA modifies E coli testing rules for Canadian beef"

Nov 8 CIDRAP News story "USDA vows to double inspections of Canadian meat"

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