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WASHINGTON - On the heels of the second-largest beef recall in the country's history, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) said yesterday it will fight harder to protect the public from E. coli contamination in meat products by expanding product testing and recalling infected meat more rapidly.
"We want the American consumer to know that FSIS has taken a number of aggressive actions to respond to a recent increase in E. coli O157:H7 recalls and illnesses associated with this pathogen and we are further expanding these efforts," said Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Richard A. Raymond.
FSIS, which also provided an update on stepped-up efforts initiated in the spring and summer of 2007, said the number of E. coli recalls climbed to 15 so far in 2007, compared to the five cases reported in all of 2005.
FSIS said it increased the number of tests of ground beef by more than 75 percent in July, and began planning for a new follow-up testing program for federally inspected beef plants that had tested positive for E. coli.
In June 2007, FSIS identified an increased number of E. coli O157:H7 positive tests in beef, as well as a larger number of recalls and illnesses caused by this pathogen than in recent years.
The agency said it increased the number of tests of ground beef for E. coli O157:H7 by more than 75 percent in July, and began planning for a new follow-up testing program for federally inspected beef plants that had positive tests for E. coli O157:H7.
Additionally, FSIS accelerated implementation of initiatives scheduled for spring 2008 in response to concerns about increased positives of E. coli O157:H7 and also accelerated its plans to review suppliers and processors based on a new checklist, once inspection program personnel complete specialized training, which begins next week.
"Lessons learned from a number of recalls including the recent Topps recall emphasized the need for us to do even more to strengthen our policies and programs," said Raymond. "We also realized that to make risk-based inspection in processing most effective, we need to strengthen our database that will support that system."
FSIS further determined steps were also needed to ensure that inspection program personnel and the industry fully understand the nature of the challenge presented by E. coli O157:H7. The agency is thus ensuring that suppliers, processors and FSIS will be able to identify an emerging problem as early as possible and to prevent contaminated product from entering commerce.
On Oct. 4, FSIS publicly outlined the timeline of the Topps recall, the preliminary findings from its investigation of the Topps recall, actions already taken by the agency and further steps to reduce E. coli 0157:H7.
The agency has also outlined these actions for consumer and industry organizations and sought their support in working together to control this pathogen.
Key initiatives targeted to federally inspected plants that produce raw beef products include:
-- Testing and analysis of trim.
-- Verifying control of E. coli O157:H7.
-- New checklist for verifying control.
-- Testing more domestic and imported ground beef components.
-- More rapid recalls.
-- Targeting routine testing.
-- Ensuring safety of imported beef products.
The agency said it also plans to strengthen communications with public health partners, industry, and consumer representatives, as well as internally with inspection program personnel.