Food & Drinks

‘Big Six’ banned 9 years ago are getting their due with E. coli testing

USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) plans to expand its routine verification testing to include six Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (non-O157 STEC; O26, O45, O103, O111, O121, or O145) that are adulterants.

The action comes nine years after FSIS determined that raw, non-intact beef products and raw, intact beef products that are intended for use in raw, non-intact beef products contaminated with non-O157 STEC (O26, O45, O103, O111, O121, or O145) are adulterated under the Federal Meat Inspection Act. It is illegal to sell adulterated foods.

The agency cited evidence of these non- O157 STEC organisms’ high pathogenicity, low infectious dose, transmissibility from person to person, and thermal resistance high enough to survive ordinary cooking.  FSIS also stated that raw, non-intact beef products and raw, intact beef products that are intended for use in raw, non-intact beef products, contaminated with non-O157 STEC are adulterated because they are unhealthful and unwholesome.

Verification testing for E. coli O157:H7 is conducted on ground beef, bench trim, and raw ground beef components other than raw beef manufacturing trimmings (i.e., head meat, cheek meat, weasand (esophagus) meat, the product from advanced meat recovery (AMR) systems, partially defatted chopped beef and partially defatted beef fatty tissue, low temperature rendered lean finely textured beef, and heart meat — thereafter ‘‘other raw ground beef components’’) on samples by FSIS-regulated facilities.

But testing for  E. coli  O26, O45, O103, O111, O121, or O145, has not caught up with O157.

Currently, FSIS tests only its beef manufacturing trimmings samples for these six non-O157 STECs and E. coli O157:H7.

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Other raw beef products are presently tested for only E. coli O157:H7. The FSIS also intends to test for the non-O157 STEC in ground beef samples that it collects at retail stores and inapplicable samples it collects of imported raw beef products. 

A variety of strains of Escherichia coli  (E. coli) live in the intestines of healthy humans and most warm-blooded animals. E. coli bacteria help maintain the balance of normal intestinal flora (bacteria) against harmful bacteria and synthesize or produce some vitamins.

E coli O157:H7 is the strain of the bacteria that is most harmful to humans, causing severe intestinal infections. In 1994, E. coli O157:H7 was banned from beef because of causing human illnesses. It was the first and only E. coli strain declared as an adulterant in beef until late 2011 when six other strains were also banned from beef.  Since June 2012, FSIS has tested for both O157:H7 and the “big six” in ground beef facilities.

The FSIS is requesting comments by Aug. 3, 2020, on the proposed sampling and testing of ground beef, bench trim, and other raw ground beef and the agency responding to comments on Nov. 19, 2014, Federal Register notice titled ‘‘Shiga Toxin-Producing Escherichia coli (STEC) in Certain Raw Beef Products.’’   The date that FSIS requires the new testing will be announced in a subsequent Federal Register notice. 

The FSIS is also making available its updated analysis of the estimated costs and benefits associated with the implementation of its non-O157 STEC testing on raw beef manufacturing trimmings and the costs and benefits associated with the expansion of its non-O157 STEC testing on ground beef, bench trim, and other raw ground beef components

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Comments may be submitted by one of the following methods: 

• Federal eRulemaking Portal: This website provides commenters the ability to type short comments directly into the comment field on the web page or to attach a file for lengthier comments. Go to http://www.regulations.gov. Follow the on-line instructions at that site for submitting comments. 

• Mail, including CD–ROMs, etc.: Send to Docket Clerk, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service, 1400 Independence Avenue SW, Mailstop 3758, Room 6065, Washington, DC 20250–3700. 

• Hand- or Courier-Delivered Submittals: Deliver to 1400 Independence Avenue SW, Room 6065, Washington, DC 20250–3700. 

Instructions: All items submitted by mail or electronic mail must include the agency name and docket number FSIS– 2010–0023. Comments received in response to this docket will be made available for public inspection and posted without change, including any personal information.

Docket: For access to background documents or comments received, call 202-720–5627 to schedule a time to visit the FSIS Docket Room at 1400 Independence Avenue SW, Room 6065, Washington, DC 20250–3700. 

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