USDA to ‘Super-Size’ Ground Beef Testing

Beginning this summer, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) will do double testing on ground beef samples: Every time it tests for Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) in a sample of ground beef or ground beef sources, it will also test for Salmonella. This new approach will begin on June 29, according to FSIS’ May 16 Constituent Update.

Salmonella is the most urgent issue facing FSIS when it comes to protecting consumers,” noted acting under secretary for Food Safety Brian Ronholm in a blog post on May 16. FSIS issued a Salmonella Action Plan in December. “Once FSIS has collected enough data about the prevalence of Salmonella in ground beef, we will create a new standard to encourage ground beef processors to strengthen their Salmonella controls, resulting in safer products and fewer foodborne illnesses.”

The move is not surprising, says Guy Loneragan, PhD, a veterinary epidemiologist and professor of Food Safety and Public Health at Texas Tech University. “They’ve been talking about doing this for some time. It certainly should improve efficiency within the laboratories. The difference is that, in the past, 0157 has really been done to evaluate the effectiveness of HACCP plans, and Salmonella testing has been done as part of a performance assay, as an indicator of sanitary conditions. Now, I presume, those two objectives will be focused on within one sample. I do think there’s value in looking for opportunities to improve efficiency, and this is one of them.”

One question about the new approach, Dr. Loneragan says, is how it might change the understanding of baseline. FSIS has said it will increase the raw ground beef sample portion for Salmonella analysis from 25 grams to 325 grams. “What does that do to our estimates of sample-level prevalence? A larger sample may affect our understanding of the prevalence we’re trying to achieve.”

FSIS is not making any changes to the STEC sampling and testing programs at this time.


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