Really? I had to learn it from a GAO Report that “[a]s of February 2011, officials for USDA’s meat and poultry regulatory program said that the department had developed standardized tests to detect all six strains.” Perhaps Secretary Vilsack was just too shy yesterday to tell me.
The last I heard (a few months ago) was that FSIS was waiting until it had all six tests developed in-house before they would move to deem “The Big Six” (like O26, O45, 0103, O111, O121, and O145) adulterants which those (and other non-O157’s) cause 36,000 illnesses, 1,000 hospitalizations and 30 deaths in America each year. Perhaps Secretary Vilsack was just too shy yesterday to tell me.
So, buried on page 14 of the report is this:
Recently recognized pathogens have been associated with a variety of foods, including meat and fresh produce, that are not addressed either by the commodity program’s purchasing specifications or by federal regulations. Specifically, public health officials have shown that at least six strains of E. coli other than E. coli O157:H7 produce the same potentially deadly toxins and life-threatening illness. CDC has estimated that these strains cause approximately 113,000 illnesses and 300 hospitalizations annually in the United States. Outbreaks associated with these six strains of E. coli have involved lettuce, raw ground beef, and berries, among other foods, according to CDC. For example, in 2010, two students in New York state developed a disease with complications, such as kidney failure and anemia, after consuming romaine lettuce contaminated with one of these strains, which the school district purchased commercially. Officials in this district told us that, as a result of the outbreak, the district reduced the amount of lettuce it served and stopped purchasing the particular bagged lettuce product associated with the outbreak.
Although USDA’s commodity program has not developed any purchasing specifications related to microbial contamination to address the risks from these non-O157 strains of E. coli, federal regulatory agencies have considered taking action to address them, and some food companies have begun to test their products for these strains. In October 2007, USDA, FDA, and CDC cosponsored a public meeting to consider the public health significance of non-O157 E. coli in the U.S. food supply. As of February 2011, USDA’s meat and poultry regulatory program is considering conducting routine testing for the presence of six non-O157 strains of
E. coli in certain raw beef products. In addition, some companies in the food industry have developed their own tests and are currently using these methods to determine whether the food they produce is contaminated with strains of non-O157 E. coli. For example, we visited one produce company that routinely tests its leafy greens for these strains. In addition, USDA’s meat and poultry regulatory program has collaborated with industry to develop tests that could rapidly detect six such strains in raw ground beef. As of February 2011, officials for USDA’s meat and poultry regulatory program said that the department had developed standardized tests to detect all six strains.
So, USDA FSIS, what’s next?