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May 2nd, 2012
06:32 PM ET

Feds speed up E. coli investigation procedures

Each year one in six Americans is sickened by a foodborne illness. Sometimes the culprit is E. coli or other bacteria which contaminate meat or poultry products.  On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced new measures designed to detect contaminated meat and poultry faster and before it enters the human food supply. 

E. coli 0157 is the most common source of foodborne illness and can cause diarrhea, illness and, in severe cases, even death.

“The additional safeguards ... will improve our ability to prevent foodborne illness by strengthening our food safety infrastructure,” said USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety Elisabeth Hagen during a conference call with reporters. “Together, these measures will provide us with more tools to protect our food supply, resulting in stronger public health protections for consumers."

Currently when the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) performs routine E. coli testing of meat and poultry products, they need to have a “confirmed positive” test to instigate the traceback process for contaminants.

Under the new rules, FSIS can begin tracebacks if meat or poultry samples result in a “potential positive" test result, which means an investigation can launch 24 to 48 hours sooner than waiting for a confirmed positive test result.

Then FSIS can more quickly begin linking products, companies, and sources of the contaminated product and instigate a recall, preventing products from reaching consumers.

The new procedure got a thumbs up from the health advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest.

"Rapid traceback is essential for reducing the impact of E. coli outbreaks, and protects both consumers and the meat industry," said Caroline Smith DeWaal, the organization's food safety director. "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.

She called on the USDA to do the same for antibiotic-resistant strains of Salmonella in meat products, which she said hospitalized nearly 50 people and sickened 167 last year.


soundoff (20 Responses)
  1. Mark

    in regards to treatment for ECOLI , has there ever been studies to determine if a benefical bacteria would help the sick patient?

    May 3, 2012 at 16:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. robbin cassing

    can you please specify on the E-Coli cases reported in Floride.

    June 8, 2012 at 16:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. at sea

    officials are fully aware of the cause. watch food, inc.

    June 9, 2012 at 07:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Ron Reece

    When is this government going to do the right thing with regard to improving food sampling technology? Currently we rely upon antiquated and ineffective sampling from swabbing and culturing for E Coli, but this technique is decades old and obsolete now.

    There is a company, by the name of Microbial Vac, out of Bluffdale, Utah, that built a breakthrough sampling technology SPECIFICALLY for offering greater ability to sample for E Coli and other pathogens But the food service industry apparently is hesitant to utilize it because it would likely result in greater detection of pathogens, resulting in their processing lines having to close down.

    http://www.m-vac.com/

    But fortunately they are making great inroads in Forensic DNA detection, solving crimes where previous investigative sampling techniques have failed to find the necessary DNA evidence.

    It's just sad that more and more people are going to become sick from food contamination because the food processors refuse to use the best technology available.

    The only thing that is going to change this picture is for regulators, or even legal litigators, to take actions that require the best available technology be utilized for sampling of our food. The technology exists, but apparently food safety is taking second place to profits.

    June 10, 2012 at 11:05 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.