USDA Releases Strategies to Reduce E. coli Levels at Beef Slaughterhouses

A special Working Group has determined that a reduction in O157 could be achieved in two ways: one, by the Agency improving how FSIS inspection personnel verify plant performance of sanitary dressing procedures, and two, by improving the information available to industry on how sanitary dressing should be performed.

Reduction of E. coli O157 illnesses since the mid-1990’s has been one of the Food Safety and Inspection Service’s greatest public health successes, with illnesses having dropped by over 50 percent since 1998. While overall illnesses are down significantly, the most recently available outbreak data shows a slight increase in illnesses from this dangerous pathogen. FSIS’ Strategic Performance Working Group (SPWG) has released a six-point strategy to turn the trend back in the right direction.

The SPWG includes professionals from across FSIS, including field personnel, microbiologists, and policymakers who come together periodically to tackle serious and stubborn challenges that limit the Agency’s successful performance of its mission. The SPWG previously developed the Salmonella Action Plan, which has been the agency’s blueprint for tackling Salmonella since December 2013. Now the SPWG is also recommending a multipronged approach to address pathogenic E. coli in beef slaughterhouses.

The SPWG determined that a reduction in O157 could be achieved in two ways. First, the Agency needs to improve how FSIS inspection personnel verify plant performance of sanitary dressing procedures through better training, more correlations, and developing a standard to assess industry’s performance of sanitary dressing. Drawing on the experience of its members, the SPWG also stated that the training would be most effective if it included photographs and real-world scenarios to effectively illustrate the issues discussed in the documents.

Second, the SPWG recommended improving the information available to industry on how sanitary dressing should be performed. The SPWG said the Agency could do so by publishing a guide containing suggestions for best practices.

More detailed information about the SPWG’s findings and recommendations mentioned here can be found on the FSIS website at Strategic Performance Working Group: Shiga Toxin-Producing E. coli Findings. We are confident in this approach and look forward to being able to report lower illness numbers as a result of this report and future issues that the SPWG will work to address.

This blog was originally posted on USDA.gov, by Philip Bronstein, FSIS Senior Microbiologist

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