I have been pressing everyone I know in food safety and the meat industry about the “uptick" in E. coli cases in 2007.  Here are some ideas from recent press reports:

USDA says has enough legal authority to do recalls

“Raymond said there are several factors USDA is investigating that could be responsible for the uptick in E. coli discoveries.  Among them include the pathogen becoming resistant to drugs and changes in weather or diet that can lead to stress in the animal. He assured lawmakers it was not because companies are being careless or inspectors sloppy in their work.  "I think it’s starting with the animal’s environment," said Raymond. "There is a change in what we feed cattle and I don’t know if that has created a problem."

Is this an explanation?  What is the change?  I understand that perhaps with the increase in the price of oil there has been an increase in ethanol production and waste products – eaten by cows?  Anyone have any other ideas?  How about this:

Crackdown Upends Slaughterhouse’s Work Force

“Last November, immigration officials began a crackdown at Smithfield Foods’s giant slaughterhouse here, eventually arresting 21 illegal immigrants at the plant and rousting others from their trailers in the middle of the night.  Since then, more than 1,100 Hispanic workers have left the 5,200-employee hog-butchering plant, the world’s largest, leaving it struggling to find, train and keep replacements.  Across the country, the federal effort to flush out illegal immigrants is having major effects on workers and employers alike. Some companies have reluctantly raised wages to attract new workers following raids at their plants.  After several hundred immigrant employees at its plant in Stillmore, Ga., were arrested, Crider Poultry began recruiting Hmong workers from Minnesota, hiring men from a nearby homeless mission and providing free van transportation to many workers.”

Hmmm, a influx of unskilled US workers with high turnover – sound interesting.  What other ideas?