A June beef recall by JBS Swift & Co. for deadly E.coli contamination could have been prevented if a plan devised during the Bush administration to build new barriers between the bacteria and the public had been enacted.
The proposed safety measures would have had U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors testing more beef, a move the meat industry argued was unnecessary, writes Bill Tomson,WestStreetJournal . According to the news article, inspectors now routinely test ground beef for the E. coli bacteria and any meat that is designated to be turned into ground beef -- usually the part of the carcass called "trim," but nothing else.
The USDA has been considering for more than a year a policy change that would allow whole beef cuts to be considered "adulterated" -- and thus subject to recall -- even if they aren't "intended for use in ground beef," according to Daniel Engeljohn, a deputy assistant administrator for USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, or FSIS.
The policy change is still under consideration, he told WestStreetJournal.
Also still under consideration is a method devised last year by the USDA for slaughterhouses to detect unacceptable levels of E. coli in the primals they are producing.
In an August 2008 draft "guidance guideline" for slaughterhouses, FSIS suggested that when four out of 91 trim tests show a positive result for E. coli in beef trim -- the material primarily used to make ground beef -- that should be considered a "high-event day." If that happens, Engeljohn said, all of the beef -- not just the trim -- could be dangerous.
However, the decision on whether to treat primals as a potential source of E. coli poisoning and whether to allow them into commerce is still up to the producers, Engeljohn said, and that won't change unless policy is changed.