USDA to launch new series of e-coli tests on beef

U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack


U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack says some of the nation’s largest retailers are already asking for the kinds of new food-safety tests for raw beef that the U.S.D.A. will require next spring.
Noting beef is a $5-billion a year industry for Nebraska, Vilsack says the U.S.D.A. is expanding the testing on beef to check for six more strains of e-coli.
“That’s a big deal and it’s going to make — obviously — ground beef safer,” Vilsack says. “It’s also expanded our testing procedures to include bench trim, which was not included before.”
Bench trim is the fat and meat that’s trimmed from steaks and roasts. It’s generally added to ground beef, which is why the U.S.D.A. is now requiring it to be tested for e-coli, too.
More than 30,000 Americans are likely to be sickened this year because they’ve eaten beef contaminated with e-coli and some — particularly the very young and the elderly — will die.
“It’s a significant number of people who are impacted, and we’ve been reducing those numbers,” Vilsack says. “We obviously have to continue doing that.”
Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann recently visited a meat locker in Des Moines, Iowa, where both Bachmann and the owner of the establishment complained there were too many food safety tests required for beef. Vilsack says the marketplace is demanding the new tests for raw meat.
“What we recently announced was already being adopted by some of the major beef processing companies in the United States and some of the major retailers, so the market’s demanding this,” Vilsack says.
“It’s not just the USDA. The market demands a lot of this — you take a look at Walmart, for example, they are now demanding a much higher threshold for food safety activities at their suppliers.”