U.S. News

Food safety rules tightened after E. coli recall

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. food safety inspectors said Tuesday they will expand tests and recall infected meat more rapidly to combat E. coli contamination of meat products after the largest American manufacturer of hamburger patties went out of business this month.

The U.S. Agriculture Department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service said in a briefing the number of E. coli recalls climbed to 15 so far in 2007 compared to the five cases reported in all of 2005.

“We want the American consumer to know that FSIS has taken a number of aggressive actions ... associated with this pathogen and we are further expanding these efforts,” said Under Secretary for Food Safety Richard Raymond.

FSIS said it increased the number of tests of ground beef by more than 75 percent in July and began planning for a new follow-up testing program for federally inspected beef plants that had tested positive for E. coli.

“Lessons learned from a number of recalls, including the recent Topps recall, emphasized the need for us to do even more to strengthen our policies and programs,” said Raymond.

Topps Meat Co LLC, the biggest manufacturer of frozen hamburgers in the country, went out of business early this month after it was crushed by the recall of 21.7 million pounds of beef linked to 30 cases of E. coli-related illness.

It was the fifth-largest meat or poultry recall in U.S. history, the USDA said. No deaths were reported in the outbreak of E. coli 0157:H7, which can cause debilitating diarrhea and dehydration.

FSIS notified the U.S. beef industry that, as of November, all beef plants must make sure they are effectively controlling E. coli during slaughter and processing.

There will be more tests of domestic and imported ground beef parts used to make raw ground beef, like beef trim.

Under a new testing program, FSIS will test plants that handle a larger volume of beef more frequently than in the past. The government will also implement outreach and training sessions for small and very small raw beef processors.

Washington will require countries exporting beef to the U.S. to conduct the same or equivalent tests on their meat products.