Six dangerous strains of E. coli -- dubbed "the Big Six" -- will soon be banned from the beef supply, U.S. Department of Agriculture officials said Monday.
"This is one of the biggest steps forward in the protection of the beef supply in some time," Under Secretary for Food Safety at USDA, Dr. Elisabeth Hagen, told the New York Times. "We're doing this to prevent illness and to save lives."
The proposal, which will be outlined in more detail by top USDA officials Tuesday morning, will declare six additional strains of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STECs), beyond well-known E. coli O157:H7, as adulterants in beef, making product contaminated with these pathogens illegal to sell in commerce. USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service will soon test ground beef, beef trim that goes into ground beef, and machine-tenderized steaks for these pathogens.
E. coli O157:H7 has been illegal in beef products since 1994, a policy that was put in place in response to the historic outbreak that sickened hundreds and killed four children in the Pacific Northwest. The new policy, which will extend to E coli O26, O45, O103, O111, O121, and O145, is expected to kick in in March.
The meat industry did not react warmly to the announcement, while consumer groups unanimously praised the move. more