WASHINGTON — Following a public meeting that focused on E. coli, recalls, inspections and related topics, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is seeking additional comments from the meat industry and the public on a range of issues, including concerns that many contaminated primal cuts and boxed beef samples may be passing inspection.
The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service will accept additional comments and suggestions until May 7.
“We are continuing the dialogue,” FSIS spokeswoman Amanda Eamich told SN last week. “We want to discuss the issues with all stakeholders, and then we'll evaluate everything before moving forward.”
Indeed, the tone of Richard Raymond's opening remarks at the April 9-10 public meeting was one of concern, as he called for action and an end to finger-pointing within the industry. He said it's necessary to move beyond the status quo.
Raymond, who is USDA under secretary for food and safety, pointed out that FSIS changed rules related to E. coli contamination last year, but he also emphasized there is much still to be done.
“Now we need bolder, stronger initiatives. The bottom line is, I simply want harmful E. coli out of ground beef — and you all do too, or you wouldn't be here, or on the phone today,” Raymond told attendees, who included representatives from most segments of the industry. “How we're going to achieve that objective relies on how much we're willing to work together during this meeting and at the meetings that will definitely follow.”
FSIS now is co-sponsoring, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration, a two-day meeting in St. Louis on May 15-16 that's titled “Better Communication — Better Public Health Outcomes — Strategies for Improved Coordination During Foodborne Outbreaks.”
William Marler, partner in the Seattle law firm of Marler Clark and a speaker at the April meeting, said he believes Raymond's stance is not anti-industry, but that he sees the E. coli situation as a public health issue.
“I think Dr. Raymond is looking very seriously at the problem and is taking a needed public health viewpoint,” Marler said.