Ground beef under greater scrutiny for Salmonella

Jul 3, 2014

— Lawmakers attempt to legislate bacteria, calling it an adulterant

Salmonella has traditionally been seen as “a poultry problem,” whereas E. coli is “a beef problem.” But in today’s all-inclusive world, these usual bacterial jurisdictions are being shaken up.

Food safety regulators are stepping up their attention to salmonella and scrutinizing ground beef more heavily, and lawmakers are trying to legislate them into doing more.

Last week, the USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) implemented its stepped-up standards on examining beef for salmonella and Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC). According to a decision announced this May—and in accordance with the Service’s “Comprehensive Strategy to Reduce Salmonella” released in late 2013—whenever samples of raw ground or whole beef are taken to test for STEC, FSIS will test for the presence of Salmonella, as well.

According to the original May documents on the increased inspection, as well as FSIS instructions for inspectors released mid-June, the data collected from the salmonella surveillance will “allow FSIS to gather baseline data to determine the prevalence of Salmonella in ground beef and trim and to gather data necessary to propose new performance standards for ground beef.”

Just ahead of the implementation of FSIS’ new testing procedures, a pair of U.S. House representatives introduced a bill that attempts to legislate the issue even further. House bill 4966—the Pathogen Reduction and Testing Reform Act of 2014— would rule antimicrobial-resistant bacteria, such as salmonella or campylobacter, as adulterants under the Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Poultry Products Inspection Act and require regular testing for such pathogens.

The presence of adulterants in meat or poultry generally results in that product being condemned as unfit for human consumption. The bill defines an antimicrobial-resistant bacterium as a strain which is “resistant to not less than two critically important antibiotics for human medicine (as specified in the World Health Organization’s list of Critically Important Antimicrobials).”

H.R 4966 was introduced by House Representatives Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Louise M. Slaughter (D-NY). The pair claimed there is a need for the bill due to a lacking in USDA’s ability to recall what they call adulterated meat and poultry.

“The USDA has failed to recall meat contaminated with antibiotic-resistant pathogens because they do not believe they have the legal authority to do so. This bill would ensure there is no confusion,” said the pair in a joint announcement after introducing the bill.

“We urge Congress to pass this legislation before more Americans are sickened by contaminated meat, poultry, or egg products. We need federal agencies that will protect public health, not bend to the threats of deep-pocketed food producers seeking to escape regulation.”

As of publishing, the bill had not yet been referred to committee. — WLJ