Janie Gabbett of Meatingplace.com wrote an interesting article about the increase in the number of E. coli O157:H7 cases and USDA’s and FSIS’s response.

USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service is increasing follow-up sampling and food safety assessments at ground beef production plants after a spike in E. coli O157:H7 recalls during June and July, according to Kenneth Petersen, FSIS assistant administrator to the Office of Field Operations.

“In July and August, to determine if [the spike] was random, we doubled our E. coli samples from 1,000 a month to 2,000 a month,” Petersen told Meatingplace.com in an interview. He said that data is now being reviewed and analyzed.

Routine inspections have turned up 16 positives, as of July 31, for E. coli compared to 20 positives during all of 2006. Boosting follow-up testing

The agency will also be increasing its follow-up efforts when a plant tests positive for E. coli. For plants that grind more than 1,000 pounds of beef per day, a positive sample will trigger 16 follow-up samples (one to two per week), plus a food-safety assessment of the facility’s entire food-safety system. Eight follow-up samples will be taken at plants that grind less than 1,000 pounds per day.

“In the past, we haven’t done that routinely. Now we will. If you get a positive, you can expect I’ll be scheduling a food-safety assessment and intensified testing,” Petersen said. The agency is also starting to take a closer look at blade or mechanically tenderized steaks and roasts that are needle-tenderized.

“Our main interest is in needle-injected tenderizing, as it can introduce E. coli,” he said, adding the agency is in the process of considering how to best verify these processes.

Looking for listeria below:

FSIS is also increasing its random testing for listeria monocytogenes at plants that make ready-to-eat meat products. Petersen said from about 14,000 total samples taken last year, about 0.5 percent tested positive for listeria monocytogenes. However, additional intensified testing at plants that tested positive has shown that population of plants has a much higher rate of 4.0 percent positives.

“The message here is, if you get a random positive, you need to take a critical look at your processes, as I will surely be right behind you, and you might as well fix your problems before I tell you to,” he said.

FSIS is also doubling its random “not for cause” testing for listeria monocytogenes in product and the environment. Petersen said the agency since the spring is testing at a rate of 200 plants per year, up from 100 such tests last year.