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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Is Secretary Vilsack stepping up on non-O157 E. coli?


I must admit I left before Secretary Vilsack arrived at the IAFP Conference for his speech.  Although I like the Secretary, I did not expect for him to say much of anything new about food safety.  And, after spending some $40,000 on public health scholarships, the Food Safety News booth, travel for FSN staff and giving away nealry 1,000 copies of “Poisoned,” I felt I better get out of town before I was hit up for more money.

I did, however, miss the Secretary’s discussion on non-O157 E. coli.  Here is the transcript in full:

That’s why today, I’d like to talk a little about dangerous E. coli in beef.

I know that many of you are experts in this subject. E. coli – of course – can cause severe illness and even death. The most notorious among them is E. coli O157:H7 – which has been declared an adulterant for over a decade in America.

But, we know that non-O157 STEC can cause harm, and even death, to consumers.

In fact, the six most common non-O157 STEC identified by CDC account for more than 80 percent of clinical strains that we see in the United States.

FSIS, together with FDA and CDC, have kept an eye on non-O157 STEC for several years. We’ve engaged food safety stakeholders at public meetings about how to best protect the public from these pathogens… USDA has developed the tests for them – an important tool that we didn’t have when we launched our O157 testing program. And today we have leaders in the meat industry that have taken these tests and implemented them in their establishments.

But we want to do more on the non-O157 STEC.

So this January, we took an important step and submitted a draft policy to the White House Office of Management and Budget on this issue. They are actively working with us to move this through the process and finalize a policy that is supported by the best science. And I am hopeful we’ll be able to announce more progress.

I know that it has taken some time – much to the frustration of many in this room, those in Congress, and most importantly…the American public. But, by taking this issue seriously, the scientific, advocacy and government communities have created the atmosphere so that when we do announce a new policy to protect consumers from non O157 STECs, everyone from the government to the industry will be ready to implement.


Honestly, I think I likely missed a great speech.  However, the time has long passed to talk about non-O157 E. coli.  The Secretary and his able Under-Secretary have been talking about this for a very long time.  At least one prior Under-Secretary did the same.  I spent $500,000 to show the prevalence of non-O157 E. coli in retail beef.  BPI, Costco and Earthbound Farms – and others – are already testing for the “Big Six” – and others.  The time for talking about this is over.  Talking looks more like foot-dragging.  Foot-dragging look more and more like a denial of the Petition I filed with FSIS in 2009 urging action.  Mr. Secretary, Madame Under-Secretary, September is just around the corner.

  • Minkpuppy

    A year ago, I had industry folks telling me that the Agency was going to move on this and name the Big 6 as adulterants after the first of the year . January 2011 has come and gone and here we sit 8 mths later still wiondering what the heck is going to happen.

  • Gabrielle Meunier

    The squeaky wheel gets the grease. Your voice has been heard. You have made a difference. (Again.)

  • Sam

    Oh no! He used the word “science”!!! We should all know by now that if “science” is involved, then the Teapublicans will do everything in their power to make sure no meaningful legislation will ever see the light of day.
    Until conscientious food companies take it upon themselves to test for non-0157:H7 strains of e. coli, the public (our customers) will continue playing russian roulette at the dinner table.
    Are republicans so evil that they are immune to food poisoning? Or are they just afraid of science, truth, and morality? I heard John Boehner keeps that healthy glow by eating his young.

  • Tim

    Bill, you’re half right. Most STX positive organisms don’t cause large outbreaks like 0157:H7. While the volume is higher, they usually aren’t as virulent. This new 0104:H4 strain acquired a completely new set of virulence factors, even causing the industry to create a new “pathotype” EHEAC. I applaud your efforts for more testing to keep our food safe. However, JUST testing for the “Big Six” wouldn’t have caught this bug because it’s not part of the “Big Six”. That leaves us in a tough spot because no matter how much we test, bugs adapt and we’ll ALWAYS miss organisms, regardless of testing. Again, I applaud your efforts to keep our food supply safe but it’s more difficult than “Let’s test the Big Six.”