New E.Coli test
LIVE FROM AMI: E. coli in 2008: Fasten your seat belts, expert says
By Tom Johnston on 3/11/2008 for Meatingplace.com
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Changes to laboratory methods that heighten the intensity of tests USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service uses to detect E. coli H:0157 in beef product means that positive samples of the organism will likely increase in 2008.
Randy Huffman, vice president of scientific affairs for the American Meat Institute Foundation, told attendees at the Annual Meat Conference here that the positive rate could increase by 20 percent to 50 percent over that of 2007, which was 0.23 percent.
Huffman acknowledged that 2008's two recalls prompted by positive tests for E. coli constitutes a small sample, but pointed out that one of the two was the result of illness in a consumer. Nearly half of all the recalls in 2007 also fell into that category.
"The message here is make sure your seat belts are buckled for 2008," Huffman said.
The meat industry was on a roll from 2000 to 2006, when the positive rate for E. coli dropped to 0.17 percent from about 0.86 percent. In 2007, though, it increased to 0.23 percent. "Something did happen," Huffman said.
No clear answer
Problem is, there has yet to be a clear explanation as to why, though USDA and scientists across the country are working on finding one.
Multiple intervention steps in the slaughter process drastically reduce the amount of E. coli organisms on a carcass, but Huffman noted there are times when the pathogen will make its way through the system anyway.
The industry will need to build on what made it successful earlier in the decade, most notably by elevating the intensity of audits between suppliers and customers, Huffman said.
"As an industry, we need to be very aware of the situation and try to understand what changed [in 2007] and why we had a significantly higher rate of illnesses in the people eating our product," he said.
The industry has dramatically stepped up testing in recent years, taking between 600,000 to 1 million samples per year, and is at a point where in most major beef slaughter plants have a 95 percent chance of detecting E. coli, Huffman said.
While the industry conducts more research on how to combat E. coli, the only "silver bullets" could be cooking product to an internal temperature of 160 degrees F and irradiating product, he said.