Valley Meats LLC, a Coal Valley, Illinois grinding plant recalled approximately 95,898 pounds of ground beef that might have been contaminated with E. coli O157:H7, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced in late May.

However, the problem was discovered through an epidemiological investigation of illnesses, NOT before the meat made it between hamburger buns. On May 13, 2009, FSIS was informed by the Ohio Department of Health of a cluster of E. coli O157:H7 infections. Illnesses have now been reported in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Illinois. About a dozen people were sickened and one young girl in Ohio died.

So, where was Valley Meats “Test and Hold” food safety program? Shouldn’t the objective be to mitigate consumer risks associated with the presence of E. coli O157:H7 and other Shiga-toxin E. coli? Shouldn’t every USDA inspected slaughter facility, grinding operation and grocer utilize a “Test and Hold” program using science-based, robust serial sampling of finished ground beef products? Shouldn’t the testing include PCR/DNA genetic testing to identify a specific DNA strand unique to E. coli O157:H7 so if people do become ill, they can be linked to the source?

True, you cannot “Test and Hold” your way to complete food safety. You cannot test all hamburgers before it hits a consumer’s kitchen. However, we can test more – perhaps in part to validate a plant’s HACCP program – perhaps in part to try and save the life of one young girl.