USDA modifies E coli testing rules for Canadian beef

Nov 21, 2007 (CIDRAP News) – The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has modified its program of increased testing and inspection of Canadian meat, after finding no problems in the first week or so, a USDA official said today.

The department is no longer requiring that importers hold shipments of Canadian meat until pathogen testing is completed, Amanda Eamich of the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) reported. However, she said increased inspections and testing will continue. Tests take 3 to 7 days, depending on the pathogen, officials have said.

The USDA announced Nov 8 it would roughly double its inspections and testing of Canadian meat and poultry products. The move came after beef trim from a Canadian packing plant, Rancher's Beef of Balzac, Alta., was implicated in an Escherichia coli O157:H7 outbreak linked to ground beef from Topps Meat Co. of Elizabeth, N.J. Topps went out of business after recalling more than 21 million pounds of ground beef in September.

The USDA has also been inspecting the Rancher's Beef plant and several other Canadian meat facilities that were previously flagged for problems or are similar to Rancher's Beef in their operations.

The dropping of the requirement to hold meat during testing "was due to the preliminary findings of our audits and the first week or so of testing," Eamich told CIDRAP News. "We had previously said we would reassess after we got the preliminary data."

Eamich said no E coli contamination or other "product failures" have been found in the expanded testing program so far.

The expanded USDA program, according to the Nov 8 announcement, includes increased inspections of Canadian meat, poultry, and pasteurized egg products; more testing of raw ground beef for E coli O157:H7; the initiation of E coli testing of beef trim, boxed beef, and certain other cuts of meat that had not been tested before; and increased testing of ready-to-eat products for Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella.

On a related issue, Eamich said the USDA is not considering requiring American meat companies to hold meat until pathogen testing is completed, contrary to a recent news report.

A Nov 18 report in USA Today said the agency might require companies to hold meat during testing.

Eamich said the USDA has long had guidelines recommending that companies hold meat until test results come back, "but it's not something we require," she said. She added that there are no proposals to change that.

Mark Dopp, an American Meat Institute (AMI) official, said large companies already hold meat during testing, according to the USA Today report. He said more companies, but not all, embraced that practice after USDA and AMI began recommending it several years ago.

A spike in E coli–related meat recalls this year prompted the USDA in October to vow to take a number of steps to combat the problem. As of Oct 23, the agency said E coli in ground beef had sparked 15 recalls, eight of which involved illnesses. In 2006 there were just eight such recalls, none involving illnesses, the agency said.

See also:

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

Oct 23 CIDRAP News story "USDA announces plans to reduce E coli contamination in ground beef"

Newsletter Sign-up

Get CIDRAP news.

Sign up now»

OUR UNDERWRITERS

Unrestricted financial support provided by

Bentson Foundation 3M United Health Foundation Gilead Become an underwriter»