Hamburger.jpgMSNBC’s JoNel Aleccia reported this morning “Testing for new E. coli strains in beef finally to begin.”

The move implements long-delayed federal regulations aimed at a group of E. coli bacteria collectively known as “the Big Six,” bugs capable of causing severe infection and death.

Under the new rules, the six additional strains of E. coli will be classified as adulterants on par with the better-known E. coli O157:H7, which is often linked to serious illnesses tied to hamburger. The new strains include E. coli O26, O111, O103, O121, O45 and O145.

Beginning Monday, it will be illegal to sell raw beef trimmings and non-intact beef products, such as tenderized steaks, if they’re contaminated with any of the six new strains of E. coli, according to documents from the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The agency indicated it plans in the future to expand routine testing for those strains to additional raw beef products, including ground beef.

Like E. coli O157:H7, the six new strains are capable of producing bloody diarrheal illness that can lead to kidney failure and death. In 2010, for the first time, the non-O157 strains of what are known as Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, or STECs, were responsible for more infections in the U.S. than E. coli O157:H7, according to federal health officials.

The non-O157 STECs caused 451 confirmed infections that year, including 69 people who were hospitalized and one death. E. coli O157:H7 caused 442 infections, 184 hospitalizations and two deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many illnesses are never reported, however, and the agency estimates that non-O157 E. coli strains cause an estimated 113,000 illnesses and 300 hospitalizations a year.

The new testing requirement is a victory for Bill Marler, a Seattle food safety lawyer who petitioned FSIS to have the “Big Six” strains declared adulterants and then threatened to sue the USDA when the agency didn’t respond promptly.

He pointed to the 1994 classification of E. coli O157:H7 as an adulterant as a turning point for food safety in U.S. and said the new rules would have a similar effect.

“(It) dramatically changed the landscape of how safe our meat supply is for the better,” he said. “This is another step in getting this done correctly.”

According to the Center for Infectious Disease Research & Policy (CIDRAP), these six STEC strains account for 80 percent of non-O157 E. coli illnesses infections. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates non-O157 E. coli strains cause 112,000 illnesses annually, with about 36,700 of those attributed to beef.

  • Minkpuppy

    Lawsuits against FSIS by meat industry organizations start in 3….2….1….

  • Paul F Schwarz

    Finally a win for the consumer! This is a victory for food safety. Way to go Bill!
    Paul A Schwarz
    Section 51 Row 1 Grave 3 Ft Leavenworth/Leavenworth National Cemetery

  • Please note one sentence in the article above which states “Beginning Monday, it will be illegal to sell raw beef trimmings and non-intact beef products, such as tenderized steaks, if they are contaminated with any of the six new strains of E.coli”. End quote.
    “NON-INTACT beef products”? Huh? To make a long story short, USDA endorses the right of source slaughter plants to ship into commerce INTACT cuts of meat (Rib Eyes, Top Sirloin, etc) which are merely surface-contaminated with E.coli. We don’t need a PhD in meat science to realize that when retail meat markets and restaurants unwittingly inherit INTACT cuts which are surface-contaminated with invisible pathogens, and process those INTACT cuts into steaks, roasts, etc, the E.coli cross contaminate a variety of equipment in the kitchen or processing rooms. The pathogens are deposited onto hands, gloves, aprons, knives, table tops, saws, grinders, and everything touched by the hands of the person doing the processing.
    Find this hard to believe? Well, USDA knowingly allows this to happen, while reminding you ignoramus consumers that you must utilize hygienic handling and cooking protocol, while refusing to tell you that the agency allows pathogen-laced INTACT cuts to be shipped to your kitchen.
    Pretty nifty, eh?
    Contact USDA, and ask them if my statements are true. Then, ask yourself if meat inspection should be removed from USDA, and given to one agency, as many have suggested.
    One related agency gaffe; recent USDA documents focusing on testing for E.coli show that the agency will allow large slaughter plants to experience a 5% – 10% or more incidence of E.coli lab positives before the agency will even start considering if these recurring positives might indicate a “High Event Period”, which would then enable the agency to consider whether or not the plant has sanitation problems. 5% – 10% positives? Yup, in spite of the agency’s self-righteous claim of “Zero Tolerance” for e.coli. The agency’s laughable claim that it has a Zero Tolerance stance towards E.coli IS NOT applied against the large source slaughter plants. Nope, it’s only applied to the downstream entities which are the destination of E.coli-laced INTACT meats being shipped from the source slaughter plants, in boxes bearing the official USDA Mark of Inspection. Yes folks, this means that USDA knowingly allows E.coli to be labeled “USDA Inspected & Passed”, but only when it is ostensibly a feckless contaminant on the surface of intact cuts. Are we a bunch of idiots? Yes, we are, when we allow USDA to employ such tactics.
    If we refuse to speak out against gov corruption, we deserve whatever happens to our health.
    John Munsell
    John Munsell

  • doc raymond

    Actually, Minkpuppy, AMI has said they will not sue to stop the testing as they did for O157:H7 and lost. They obviously aren’t happy, and claim “perfectly safe meat” will be destroyed, but that is the subject of my next blog :)

  • Ann Quinn

    Just had to pop up and say thanks, Bill Marler, on behalf of all the
    consumers who will benefit from your sampling and testing efforts
    when no one else in the entire country stepped up to do anything.
    Keep embarassing those heavily stacked government food safety
    agencies into doing something, please.

  • Dr Butterweck

    We should do the same for raw milk. Then we would not have to pasteurize it.

  • Realist

    Let’s not forget one thing… microorganisms are ubiquitious, ever evolving and just waiting for the next best way to keep surviving and thriving. Sometimes their survival just happens to involve poisoning humans.

    For those who write with foaming mouths about intact cuts of beef with E.coli, or who write blindly of how we are now safer because a new set of 6 bugs are “regulated”. There will always be many, many pathogens, and they will evolve far faster than we can chase them with regulations and testing.

    Don’t waste time crying out to live in a utopian food world that will never happen. Be smart. Educate yourself, take ownership of your meal, cook and process your food wisely, eat the best things you can and you will be happy.