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New Beef Traceback Policies Could Reduce Public Health Toll from E. Coli O157

Statement of CSPI Food Safety Director Caroline Smith DeWaal

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USDA’s announcement of new policies allowing for traceback of beef products when preliminary results are positive for E. coli O157:H7 could help reduce the toll of deaths and illnesses during outbreaks. Rapid traceback is essential for reducing the impact of E. coli outbreaks, and protects both consumers and the meat industry. When it comes to testing for E. coli, it makes sense to start traceback procedures upon a presumptively positive test result, and not lose valuable time waiting for a confirmation. USDA should do the same for antibiotic-resistant strains of Salmonella in meat products, which just last year hospitalized nearly 50 people and sickened 167.

In addition, requiring companies to report instances when they have released unsafe product to USDA right away will give the agency much better information with which to protect consumers.

USDA appears to be focusing intensely on E.coli, which is good news for consumers as grilling season approaches. But more action is needed. The agency should require retail beef grinders, including supermarkets, to keep records of everything they grind. As we saw last year in the outbreak linked to ground beef from Hannaford grocery stores, when supermarket chains grind beef from multiple sources, it makes it much harder for investigators to track down the source of an outbreak. 

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Contact Jeff Cronin (jcronin[at]cspinet.org) or Ariana Stone (astone[at]cspinet.org).