The Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service responded to the nation's second largest meat recall, which put Topps Meat Co. out of business after 67 years, with a set of new and expanded actions designed to ensure dangerous E. coli bacteria doesn't contaminate meat.
E. coli 0157:H7 can cause stomach illness or death. The USDA had been seen as a successful watchdog after cracking down on bacterial contamination in the 1990s, but a resurgence of problems in the past couple of years -- as evidenced by increasing detection of E. coli in meat, and several smaller recalls leading up to the Topps Meat recall last month -- indicates that something is no longer working.
"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," Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Richard A. Raymond. "We also realized that to make risk-based inspection in processing most effective, we need to strengthen our database that will support that system."
The food safety branch of the USDA responded by increasing tests for E. coli at meat plants in July, and is working with the industry to increase inspections and educate owners and operators about red flags that could lead to contamination.
Many of the steps the agency highlighted, however, have been put in place over the past several months, and apparently failed to detect the Topps Meat problems before the meat hit the market, sickening dozens of people.
Among the new initiatives, the agency plans to increase inspection and testing frequency at both domestic and foreign plants in the coming weeks, and it vowed to move more quickly to recall suspect products.
For a comprehensive list of actions, go to this USDA Web page.
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