The Checkout

Would You Like Your Steak Adulterated?

Annys Shin

Just in time for grilling season.....last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture hosted a confab at the Holiday Inn in Georgetown on E. coli O157:H7 in beef. (Yes, you can spend two days talking about the effects of fecal matter in meat.)

The big topic of discussion was the recent news that the USDA's Food Safey Inspection Service was considering treating E. coli O157:H7 found on intact meat or primal cuts used for roasts and steaks as an adulterant. Currently, it's only considered an adulterant in ground beef.

To part the weeds for you: Making someting an adulterant has legal implications and imposes responsibilities on meat processors and slaughterhouses. Ground beef found to be adulterated can't be sold raw to consumers.

FSIS is considering changing its policy after what happened in 2007, when there was a surge in E. coli O157:H7-related beef recalls and outbreaks, culminating in the Topps recall. (E. coli O157:H7is a variety of E. coli, a bacteria found in the intestines of humans and other animals, that releases a toxin that damages the lining of the intestine and, in the very young and old, can lead to kidney failure.)

The agency appears to be trying to reduce the possibility of contamination at retail stores or smaller processors that may use scraps from roasts and steaks to make ground beef. Contaminated steaks can also pose a risk of cross contaminating home kitchens.

Consumer groups seemed to warm to the idea. But the American Meat Institute was not keen on it, releasing a statement later that read, "No policy change by government can alter the current scientific reality that bacteria exist on all fresh agricultural products."

On the first day of the meeting, FSIS officials made clear they hadn't made up their minds over what they plan to do. Then they broke for lunch. I was curious to see how this crowd eats. A good portion of the folks queued for the buffet, which consisted of, in this order: overboiled "baby" carrots, wild rice, tough pork chops, some sort of poultry, a few kinds of cake, and a very abbreviated salad bar with raw lettuce that no one hesitated to heap on their plates.

Some of the food safety advocates took one look at it and bolted for the door. (I think they went to a high-priced store up the street.) I stayed, partly because a microbiologist got in line behind me as did a USDA poultry inspector. I figured it couldn't be all that bad.The meat industry representatives also stuck around. (It would have been a really bad omen if they had been scared off.) So far, my intestines seem to be intact.

We'll keep you posted on the state of the intestines and FSIS's proposal.

Until then, if you're looking for guidance on how to make sure a little E. coli doesn't ruin your upcoming backyard bbqs, you can take a spin through Safe Food Park.

By Annys Shin |  April 14, 2008; 8:00 AM ET Annys Shin , Food Safety
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Why is this topic so funny to you?

Posted by: Lindemann | April 17, 2008 8:27 AM

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