NO E. COLI FOUND IN BEEF TESTS

WASHINGTON (FNS) -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture so far has found no contaminated meat from its random testing of ground beef from supermarkets.Since the controversial testing program began last October, samples have been taken from 991 stores to test for the presence of the potentially deadly E. coli 0157:H7, the bacteria that led to several deaths and hundreds of cases of illness in the Pacific

WASHINGTON (FNS) -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture so far has found no contaminated meat from its random testing of ground beef from supermarkets.

Since the controversial testing program began last October, samples have been taken from 991 stores to test for the presence of the potentially deadly E. coli 0157:H7, the bacteria that led to several deaths and hundreds of cases of illness in the Pacific Northwest two years ago.

However, seven samples initially tested positive for E. coli, a finding that a subsequent test later proved to be false. Under the testing program, protested by supermarkets, a second test must be taken to confirm a positive finding and before USDA asks for a recall of suspect product.

"We have hit every state in the union," said Richard Van Blargan, director of field operations at the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service compliance program.

The agency plans to test 2,500

supermarkets a year as part of a broader program to reduce the presence of bacteria in the nation's meat and poultry supply. The retail test-ing program was launched Oct. 17.

Retailers unsuccessfully tried to block the program in federal court, arguing that the testing did not enhance safety of the meat supply and only endangered the reputation of retailers. USDA countered that the frequency of E. coli occurring in meat at the retail level was well below 1% and that the program was a needed weapon in its arsenal to combat bacteria in meat and poultry.