The USDA on the week of April 30 modified regulations on how to limit and stop consumer intake of contaminated ground beef and other meat products.
In changing its protocol, the USDA has now set in place new initiatives to stop meat contamination at its point of origin. When a sample is taken and tests positive for E.Coli O157:H7, one of the deadliest food contaminants, officials will now mobilize more quickly and seek to find the suppliers of the meat and then any processors who might have received the product.
The USDA also modified the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008, now requiring that meat companies alert the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service within 24 hours of learning about a preliminary positive result.
“The additional safeguards we are announcing today will improve our ability to prevent food borne illness by strengthening our food safety infrastructure," Under Secretary for Food Safety for the USDA, Dr. Elisabeth Hagen, said in a statement from the USDA. “Together, these measures will provide us with more tools to protect our food supply, resulting in stronger public health protections for consumers.”
Consumer watch agencies and organizations locally and nationally, like Food and Water Watch, strongly advocated for the change. In taking this step, the USDA will now get a more accurate account of what suppliers are putting contaminated meat into grocery stores.
“What USDA has traditionally done is hold the grinder at the end of the production process liable for any contaminated meat when, in fact, the source of the contamination most likely happened at the slaughterhouse up the line,” said Tony Corbo, senior lobbyist for Food and Water Watch on food-related matters.
“We think that this is a positive step forward. When the USDA -through its own testing finds a positive for E.Coli- they conduct an investigation to hold the slaughterhouse accountable for the contamination and not put the full burden on the processor down at the end of the line,” said Corbo, who is key in legislation dealing with food regulations presented to the Congress and the Executive Branch.
E.Coli has an incubation period of 1 to 10 days, according to FoodSafety.gov, and symptoms of infection can last 5 to 10 days. Signs of E.Coli in the body are painful stomach cramps, diarrhea, and vomiting. Cooking ground beef until it is completely done is one way to avoid the contaminant.