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Meat Groups Host E. Coli Briefing

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The American Meat Institute Foundation (AMIF) and the National Meat Association last week hosted a briefing here to confront the challenge E. coli O157:H7 poses to the beef industry.

Nearly 150 industry members, academics and government officials shared information about E. coli O157:H7’s incidence in beef and in other foods, and the pathogen’s impact on public health. Experts also detailed recommended best practices for E. coli control during slaughter and processing, as well as lotting, sampling, and testing best practices that can help track and retrieve product when necessary.

AMI president and c.e.o. J. Patrick Boyle opened the briefing by acknowledging that trends in 2007 gave the beef industry pause. A slight up-tick in E. coli O157 incidence in ground beef represented a departure from the sustained declines that have been observed since 2000.

“We all share a common goal: to produce the safest beef possible,” Boyle said. He noted that given the industry’s food safety track record, “Much is expected of industry, and rightfully so. We are eager to meet those expectations.”

USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety Richard Raymond, M.D., said USDA is redoubling efforts to ensure meat safety through actions including enhanced sampling programs, and a new more sensitive test method to detect E. coli O157:H7.

Despite many questions surrounding the cause of the uptick in E. coli O157, Raymond said, “I don’t believe the industry got complacent.”

He detailed the agency’s use of “Public Health Alerts” to convey information when insufficient details are known to recommend recalling a specific product. While he acknowledged that these alerts have been controversial, he indicated that the industry can expect them to be used periodically going forward.

Raymond detailed USDA’s agenda to turn the trend, he also offered reassurance: “It’s not a disaster. People should not be afraid to eat ground beef.”

Patricia Griffin, control chief for the Centers for Disease of the Enteric Diseases Epidemiology Branch, offered a detailed examination of the epidemiology surrounding human cases of E. coli O157, as well as consumer food safety behavior. And though she did not have foodborne illness trend data for 2007, she said she was not expecting major changes and predicted that the trends would be “close to the status quo.”

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