USDA sets meeting to air next steps on E coli O157

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Mar 28, 2008 (CIDRAP News) – The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) plans to hold a public meeting Apr 9 and 10 to gather major stakeholders to consider the agency's next moves in the battle against Escherichia coli O157:H7 in beef.

In a news release yesterday, USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Richard Raymond said the last significant reductions in E coli contamination and related illnesses occurred early in this decade.

"It is time for another series of bold, strong moves based on knowledge and science to produce further significant reductions in illnesses attributed to the products we regulate," he said.

The meeting, to be held in Washington, DC, will feature presentations and panel discussions by the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a foodborne-illness litigation firm partner, industry and consumer representatives, and the operator of a small beef plant, the USDA said.

The meeting comes in the wake of last year's surge in E coli contamination and associated illnesses and meat recalls, including a 21-million-pound ground beef recall by Topps Meat Co. As a result of the surge, in October the USDA promised a number of new safety steps, including increased product testing and faster meat recalls.

At the April meeting, the FSIS will give an update on initiatives to control E coli, including those announced in October, the agency said.

In addition, officials said they would discuss "growing evidence" that raw beef products such as primal cuts (major sections of the carcass) and boxed beef should be considered adulterated if they have E coli contamination. Currently, such products are not considered adulterated if they have E coli but are destined for further processing that would kill the pathogen, according to a report by Meatingplace.com, a meat industry online magazine.

"Although this determination is not yet the official position of FSIS, the agency recognizes that such a change would be substantive and would require stakeholder input," the news release states.

Officials at the meeting will also review illness and recall trends and look at progress in dealing with pathogenic E coli strains other than O157 (non-O157:H7 Shiga toxin–producing E coli, or STEC) since a meeting on that topic last October. "FSIS plans to begin a short-term study to determine the extent to which non-O157 STECs may be present in FSIS-regulated products, in support of regulatory infrastructure which may be needed for these organisms," the agency said.

Officials promise to offer multiple opportunities for public comments and questions on both days of the meeting, which will be held at the Holiday Inn Georgetown, 2101 Wisconsin Ave. NW, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Apr 9 and 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Apr 10. The FSIS advises those interested in attending or participating by teleconference to pre-register. (See the news release link below for more information.)

See also:

Mar 27 FSIS announcement of meeting
http://www.fsis.usda.gov/News_&_Events/NR_032708_01/index.asp

Oct 23, 2007, CIDRAP News story "USDA announces plans to reduce E coli contamination in ground beef"

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