November 19, 2009
Senate Bill Would Require E. Coli Testing
By MICHAEL MOSS
Citing public concern that meat companies and federal regulators are not doing enough to make ground beef safe, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, has introduced legislation that would require companies to test for a deadly E. coli strain.
The bill, the E. Coli Eradication Act of 2009, is focused on the slaughterhouse trimmings and other meat components commonly used to make ground beef. It would require testing at the slaughterhouses and then at grinding facilities before the trimmings are mixed.
A few companies, including the retail giant Costco, already test incoming trimmings at their grinding facilities, but most of the industry relies on slaughterhouses to test their own trim. Grinders that do their own spot checks typically wait to test the finished product after the trim is mixed, which prevents identifying the source of contamination.
The testing required by the legislation would increase the cost of producing ground beef by about a penny a pound, a spokesman for the senator said. The United States Department of Agriculture, which in 1994 banned the sale of ground beef tainted by O157:H7, has encouraged meat companies to test their products for the pathogen. In the absence of such a rule, meat companies have adopted varied practices and testing protocols. Read More
Regardless of whether or not this legislation passes, it wouldn’t necessarily change the safety of our food supply. The reason is that proper handling and cooking guidelines must still be followed by the consumer. All the testing known to man won’t make a difference if the final handler of the product doesn’t do their part to keep the food safe. If you want to guarantee the safety of the meat you are eating, all you have to do is cook it to the proper temperature and you will never have anything to worry about. And that doesn’t cost anything to do. I believe that we need to do what we can at every stage of production to protect the safety of our food supply, but consumers have to hold up their end of the bargain as well. That goes for all types of food.