Government to ban six types of E coli from ground beef: groups

WASHINGTON Mon Sep 12, 2011 7:42pm EDT

A petri dish with bacterial strains of EHEC bacteria (enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli.) is pictured in the microbiological laboratory of the The Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety (AGES) in Vienna June 9 , 2011. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

A petri dish with bacterial strains of EHEC bacteria (enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli.) is pictured in the microbiological laboratory of the The Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety (AGES) in Vienna June 9 , 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Leonhard Foeger

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. government will ban the sale of ground beef contaminated with six types of the E coli bacteria that can cause serious cases of food-borne illness, a food-safety watchdog group and a U.S. meat industry group said on Monday.

The Center for Foodborne Illness Research and Prevention (CFI) had campaigned for the ban and said it would be "a huge preventative step" to keep pathogens out of the food supply.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was expected to announce the step on Tuesday. So far, one type of E. coli, 0157:H7, is banned as an adulterant, the result of an outbreak of illness in 1944 from undercooked hamburgers.

The other types of E. coli, 026, 011, 045, 0121, 0103 and 0145, known as the "big six" for their role in causing illness, would also be banned from ground beef under USDA's plan.

The American Meat Institute, which represents beef packers, also said USDA would announce the move. It opposed the action and said few U.S. illnesses are attributed to the six bacteria.

USDA would be wiser to focus on technology to reduce occurrence of the bacteria, an effective tactic against 0157:H7, rather than to spend millions of dollars to test for it, AMI said in a statement.

"Imposing this new regulatory program on ground beef will cost tens of millions of federal and industry dollars -- cost that will likely be borne by taxpayers and consumers," AMI said.

The six bacteria have been cited in outbreaks of illness linked to produce. USDA has weighed an expansion of the banned bacteria since 2007.

"The impact this decision will have on public health is enormous and should result in fewer recalls, fewer illnesses and fewer deaths from foodborne illness," said Barbara Kowalcyk of CFI.

(Reporting by Charles Abbott; Editing by Bob Burgdorfer)

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