|Food Safety and Inspection
United States Department of Agriculture
Washington, D.C. 20250-3700
Slightly Revised February 17, 1999
In October 1994, in response to an outbreak of foodborne illness that resulted in several deaths from the consumption of undercooked ground beef contaminated with Escherichia coli (E.coli) O157:H7, the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) declared E. coli O157:H7 an adulterant in raw ground beef and began a sampling program to test for E. coli O157:H7 in raw ground beef prepared in federally inspected plants and in retail stores. FSIS notified the public that raw ground beef products contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 are adulterated under the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA) unless the ground beef is further processed to destroy this pathogen.
When the sampling program began in 1994, raw ground beef was targeted because of its strong epidemiologic link with E. coli O157:H7 infection. Exposure to E. coli O157:H7 has been linked with serious, life-threatening human illnesses (hemorrhagic colitis and hemolytic uremic syndrome). Raw ground beef products present a significant public health risk because ground beef is frequently consumed after insufficient preparation to destroy any pathogens that may have been introduced below the products surface by chopping or grinding. Thoroughly cooking ground beef products to 160 ° F will destroy E. coli O157:H7 and result in a safe product. To verify that ground beef products are thoroughly cooked, a food thermometer should be used in several places to determine that the product has reached 160 ° F.
The public health risk presented by raw beef products contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 is not limited, however, to just raw ground beef products. FSIS is clarifying that additional raw beef products contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 will be considered adulterated unless they are further processed to destroy the pathogen.
To better ensure the safety of the nations food supply, in January 1999, FSIS published a Federal Register notice clarifying its policy regarding raw beef products contaminated with the E. coli O157:H7 pathogen. In addition to raw ground beef, the Agency believes that in evaluating beef products contaminated with E. coli O157:H7, intact cuts of muscle that are to be distributed for consumption should be distinguished from non-intact products, as well as from intact cuts of muscle that are to be further processed into non-intact products prior to consumption.
In its efforts to reduce the risk of foodborne illness associated with beef products, FSIS has developed a guidance document to assist processors of ground beef in developing procedures to minimize the risk of E. coli O157:H7 and other pathogens. A draft of the Agency guidance was made available to the public at an April 1998 public meeting and has been posted on the FSIS web site. FSIS has reviewed the comments received on the draft material and is now making the revised guidelines available.
Intact beef cuts of muscle include such cuts as steaks, roasts, briskets, and stew beef. In these intact cuts the interior remains protected from pathogens that may exist on the exterior. It is highly unlikely that pathogens would migrate below the surface.
Non-intact beef products include beef that has been injected with solutions, mechanically tenderized by needling, cubing, or pounding devices, or reconstructed into formed entrees--e.g., beef that has been scored to incorporate a marinade, or formed and shaped products such as beef gyros. As a result of the process by which these beef products are made, pathogens may be introduced below the surface. Non-intact beef also includes those beef products in which pathogens may be introduced below the surface by a comminution process such as chopping, grinding, flaking, or mincing--e.g., fresh veal sausage or fabricated beef steak.
Intact cuts of beef, such as manufacturing trimmings that are to be further processed into a non-intact product prior to distribution for consumption, will be treated in the same manner as non-intact cuts of beef. Although manufacturing trimmings may be intact, these trimmings are generally further processed into non-intact products. As a result, pathogens may be introduced below the surface of these products. An E. coli O157:H7 contaminated beef product in the latter two categories (i.e., non-intact beef products and intact cuts of beef that are to be further processed into non-intact products) must not be distributed until it has been processed into a ready-to-eat product. Otherwise, such products will still be considered to be adulterated.
FSIS currently samples and tests various raw ground beef products, including veal products, for E. coli O157:H7 at inspected establishments and retail stores. If the Agency confirms the presence of E. coli O157:H7 in a raw ground beef product sample taken as part of this program, the appropriate regulatory action is taken. At this time, FSIS is not expanding its sampling and testing program to include all types of non-intact beef as described above. In response to any comments received from the public on the Agencys position regarding application of the adulteration standards, the Agency may reconsider its sampling and testing program, as well as the scope of products considered adulterated.
For Further Information Contact:
FSIS Congressional and Public Affairs Staff
Phone: (202) 720-3897
Fax: (202) 720-5704
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