I had a nice chat this morning with Jerry Hirsch from the LA Times on the resent recall of some 800,000 pounds of hamburger. As I said to Jerry:

Regulators probably jumped on the beef case out of concern for antibiotic resistant strains of salmonella, said William Marler, a Seattle attorney and food safety expert who specializes in food-borne illness litigation.

Unlike the often lethal food-borne bacterium E. coli O157:H7, salmonella is not considered an “adulterant” in federal food regulations and does not trigger an automatic recall, Marler said.

“I commend the company for recalling the beef because legally, they would be on strong ground not to do so,” he said.

The pathogens are treated differently because it takes only a small about of E. coli – just 50 organisms to infect a person – where it typically takes millions of salmonella bacteria to trigger an illness, Marler said.

Nonetheless, Marler would like to see regulation expanded to include salmonella and other pathogens that cause serious illness.

My quote of the day:

“I think that anything that can poison or kill a person should be listed as an adulterant,” he said.

We have been following the problem of Salmonella in hamburger for awhile.  Here is a recent article:

Prevalence and Characterization of Salmonellae in Commercial Ground Beef in the United States
Joseph M. Bosilevac,* Michael N. Guerini, Norasak Kalchayanand, and Mohammad Koohmaraie
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Roman L. Hruska U.S. Meat Animal Research Center, Clay Center, Nebraska 68933-0166

Received 5 November 2008/ Accepted 2 February 2009

Commercially produced ground beef samples (n = 4,136) were collected from seven regions of the United States over a 24-month period (July 2005 to June 2007) and analyzed for the presence of Salmonella enterica by using methods that concurrently provided total prevalence and enumerable levels. The overall prevalence of Salmonella strains was 4.2%. Enumeration showed that 94.2% were present at levels below 2 CFU/g. Regional monthly prevalences of Salmonella strains varied from 1.8% to 6.5% but were not statistically different (P > 0.05). All Salmonella isolates were serotyped and their antibiotic susceptibilities determined and analyzed by pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE). The most common serotypes identified were Salmonella enterica serotypes Montevideo, Anatum, Muenster, and Mbandaka, with these accounting for one-half of the isolates obtained. The prevalence of multidrug-resistant (MDR) Salmonella was determined to be 0.6%. The most common MDR serotypes were Salmonella enterica serotypes Dublin, Reading, and Typhimurium. MDR strains had resistance to between 2 and 10 antibiotics. There were no regional differences in prevalence of MDR Salmonella. PFGE analysis revealed that indistinguishable XbaI and AvrII restriction digest patterns (RDPs) could be observed in isolates of the same serotype found in different regions and months of sampling. The RDPs of 19 Salmonella strains were compared to RDPs in the PulseNet USA database. Thirteen were indistinguishable from existing patterns, and the number of records for each ranged from 1 to 478. These data show that Salmonella prevalence in commercial ground beef is low and suggest that attempts to identify sources contributing to Salmonella in ground beef by serotype, antibiogram, and PFGE cannot be made without additional documented evidence.