USDA Calls Public Meeting on E. Coli

In the aftermath of 2007's near-record meat recalls, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service has called a public meeting on April 9 and 10 to discuss various challenges and proposals on how to move forward to address E. coli meat recalls, safety measures and related topics. Significantly, the meeting agenda indicates part of the program will focus on

WASHINGTON — In the aftermath of 2007's near-record meat recalls, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service has called a public meeting here on April 9 and 10 to discuss various challenges and proposals on how to move forward to address E. coli meat recalls, safety measures and related topics.

Significantly, the meeting agenda indicates part of the program will focus on whether E. coli contamination on primal cuts and boxed beef should be officially considered an adulterant.

Currently, USDA/FSIS does not consider E. coli contamination on these products to be adulterant, and thus, even if contaminated, the product can bear USDA's stamp of approval, “USDA inspected and passed.” The agency's rationale is that the meat is meant to be cooked as steaks and roasts. It is, however, trimmed at retail locations, and generally the trim goes into ground beef.

The meeting notice says that “FSIS will discuss growing evidence that may support a determination that raw beef products such as primal cuts and boxed beef contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 are adulterated. … FSIS is initiating a discussion at this public meeting and will present preliminary information to address the agency's consideration of its position on primal cuts and boxed beef products that may lead to the conclusion that further risk mitigation actions are necessary.”

Meanwhile, some industry groups, including the National Meat Association, have said there is little evidence that boxed beef and primal cut contamination is a growing problem.

Set for Wednesday, April 9, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Thursday, April 10, from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Holiday Inn Georgetown, 2101 Wisconsin Ave., NW, Washington, D.C., the public meeting will include presentations and discussions by officials from FSIS and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as a senior foodborne illness litigation firm partner, a small packing plant owner/operator from South Carolina, and representatives from industry and consumer groups.