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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Non-O157 E. coli in Beef – How does FSIS justify it?

140px-US-OfficeOfManagementAndBudget-Seal.pngPresently the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is holding hostage FSIS’s desire to move forward with deeming certain other non-O157 E. coli’s adulterants.  I will forgo arguing that FSIS did not in fact need to ask OMB’s permission, or that it should have been done years ago, but WE are where WE are.

Food Safety News a few weeks ago, did a great job of explaining what has (more importantly, what has not) happened over at FSIS with non-O157:H7 over that last decade.  It is worth the read to put most of this into context.

How do WE continue to justify to the public that E. coli O157:H7 is an adulterant in beef (right – only certain kinds and cuts), but E. coli O104:H4 – the deadly German cousin – is not?

So, IF anyone was testing for E. coli O104:H4 (Costco and BPI are testing for some of the big six and Costco may be testing for others too), and found it in beef, they would not be under any obligation to inform the pubic, recall it or withhold the product from the market, but an FDA regulated company would.

Below, I have pulled together most of what is out there on testing of non-O157 in beef and non-O157 illness in the United States. Clearly WE all know it is in beef, but FSIS does not consider non-O157’s that have caused human illness adulterants, but FDA does.  There have been plenty of “baseline” tests.  Anymore argument that we need more tests is simply a delay tactic.

A.   Prevalence and Characterization of Non-O157 Shiga Toxin-Producing Escherichia coli Isolates from Commercial Ground Beef in the United States


C.   Non-O157 Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) outbreaks, United States

D.   E. coli O26 Recall of Ground Beef

E.   Marler Clark non-O157 Retail Ground Beef Test

F.   Petition Number 09-03: Petition for an Interpretive Rule Declaring all enterohemorrhagic Shiga Toxin-producing Serotypes of Escherichia coli (E. coli), including Non-O157 Serotypes, to be Adulterants Within the Meaning of 21 U.S.C. § 601(m)(1)

CDC’s estimates of the annual number of illnesses caused by Shiga toxin (Stx) producing E. coli (both O157:H7 and non O157:H7) are as follows:

E. coli O157:H7 – 73,000 illnesses, 2200 hospitalizations and 61 deaths

Non-O157 STEC – 113,000 illnesses, 1100 hospitalizations and 30 deaths

The inaction on non-O157 E. coli only make sense in Washington D.C.

  • doc raymond

    A lot has come to light in the last year or so, including CDC’s newest estimates for foodborne illnesses that raised the incidence of non-O157 STEC illnesses from around 30,000 to 130,000 as more labs initiated testing for the pathogens. Also, only in the last year has testing been developed for the six most common non-O157 STECs. And only in the last year has any government sponsored testing results for non-O157 STECs in beef been made public. And only in the last year have we seen any actual non-O157 STEC illnesses actually linked to beef, and only in the last year have we seen an non-O157 STEC that has dramatically more virulence than O157:H7.
    I agree with you that WE must act now, but I disagree that WE have been dragging our feet for ten or more years. Course I could be accused of being defensive, having been in a position to take action a few years ago, but I repeat that much has changed since then.
    No, FSIS did not HAVE to go thru OMB, but since the political leaders at USDA are all Presidential appointees, it only makes sense to check with your Boss when you know you are about to kick over the hornet’s nest.

  • John Munsell

    I’d like to explain what has happened on numerous historical events when a downstream further processor tested for O157:H7 and encountered positives (since you mentioned Costco and BPI above). It happened to me, and has happened with many other plants whose owners have shared their horror stories with me.
    When a USDA-inspected downstream further processing plant tests for H7 and finds positives, one of the agency’s initial responses is that the grinding plant contaminated the sample, accusing the grinder that they used insanitary sampling protocol which INTRODUCED the pathogen into meat which had originally arrived at the grinding plant in safe condition. Go figure.
    Then, when either the agency or the grinding plant notifies the source supplier of this delicate state of affairs, the source slaughter provider also claims that the grinding plant contaminated the meat during the sampling process. Frequently, the source slaughter provider cautions the downstream processor that if the processor tests incoming meat, the source provider will discontinue selling to them. During the agency’s 4-month suspension of inspection over my grinding operations in 2002, agency personnel twice told me that since the coarse ground beef I had purchased and ground for testing at USDA labs had arrived at my docks in containers bearing the USDA Mark of Inspection, that the meat was safe and sanitary when I received it. I find it very interesting that FSIS has not repeated that deceit claim in recent years.
    However, the ultimate reason the agency moves slowly on declaring non-O157’s as adulterants is that subsequent positives will eventually force FSIS to traceback to the SOURCE, which the agency avoids like the plague. I have to assume that FSIS has the unilateral authority to make the adulteration designation (Mike Taylor did so for H7) without “approval” from OMB. We are witnessing foot dragging at its worst.
    John Munsell

  • Doc, I do not take issue with you. You did much to get the ball rolling in your tenure. My issue is the the Obama administration.

  • James W.

    Apparently, exposing product to high (very high) pressure will kill all E. coli, Salmonella, etc. Why is this technology not being utilized more, especially, by the big producers, who have deep pockets and can aford it ?