WASHINGTON, March 29 2013- Certain beef products are not consistently being tested for E. coli, according to an audit report from the USDA Office of the Inspector General (OIG).  The Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) needs to ensure that all components of ground beef are included in the agency’s E. coli testing program, the report stated.

“Some portion of the product used to produce the ground beef consumers purchase is not included in FSIS sampling, and the public has less assurance that ground beef is not contaminated,” noted OIG. “FSIS does not, at present, test tenderized meat products, even though these products present some additional risk for E. coli contamination.”

Tenderized beef is non-intact product, tenderized through needling or a needling marinade process. OIG said the risk of contamination increases after this process because any E. coli on the outside of the meat could be pushed into the interior.

“Industry representatives noted that the more obvious tenderized cuts, such as minute steaks or chicken fried steak patties, often originate from tougher and less desirable cuts and consumers tend to thoroughly cook them,” according to the report. “However, in other cuts it is not as obvious to the consumer that they have been tenderized.”

OIG visited five downstream processors that offered tenderized product for distribution to consumers or retail establishments and found that FSIS did not sample tenderized product in any of the five establishments

USDA noted that several recalls of these types of products occurred. In 2008, FSIS recalled 1.3 million pounds of boxed beef product that had contributed to making 35 people ill. In 2009, a recall of 380,000 pounds became necessary when 24 illnesses in 10 States were linked to bench trim (boxed beef) that was not eligible for FSIS’ E. coli testing.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said in a statement that the report “reinforces the clear need to label mechanically tenderized beef products rather than continue to place the health of consumers at risk.”

USDA recommends that mechanically tenderized beef products be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit. “This is because pathogens, like E. coli O157:H7, may be introduced into the product during the tenderization process,” noted DeLauro, who is pushing USDA to label tenderized beef products.


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