National Consumers League

NCL statement on letter to USDA on E. coli

October 15, 2018

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC-The National Consumers League (NCL) led the Safe Food Coalition in a letter sent today to the United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) expressing concern over regulations related to E. coli control and prevention in the aftermath of two recent recalls of E. coli contaminated beef produced by Cargill Meat Solutions, Inc.

Both Cargill recalls are Class I recalls, the most severe risk category FSIS assigns to human food recalls. Cargill’s first recall applied to 25,288 pounds of ground beef products that may have been contaminated with Shiga-toxin producing E. coli (STEC) O157:H7, or the most well-known serotype of E. coli but did not cause any illnesses. Cargill's second recall applied to a far greater amount of food product – 132,606 pounds of ground beef - contaminated with E. coli O26, an extremely virulent pathogen that is often grouped with six other serotypes known as the "non-O157 STECs."

The recent outbreak linked to Cargill's beef caused 18 illnesses and one death, underscoring the seriousness of the public health risk posed by non-O157 STECs. In the letter sent to Acting Deputy Under Secretary Rottenberg, NCL asks FSIS to amend agency guidance to formally recommend a “test and hold” procedure for all STECs, not just E. coli O157:H7, so that consumers are adequately protected from contaminated meat products before the product enters the marketplace. The letter also urges FSIS to discontinue the assumption that testing and safety protocols for the O157:H7 serotype are sufficient to control or eliminate the risks posed by the six other non-O157:H7 STECs.
“We are asking FSIS to hold all plants handling beef products to to the same testing standards that can capture all serotypes of E. coli. We are aware of two beef processors - Beef Products Inc, Inc and Costco Wholesale - who conduct "test and hold" for all seven serotypes of E. coli, beyond the minimum standard for just E. coli O157:H7 as FSIS currently requires. A large entity like Cargill should also be required to do the same.” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg. 

Read the letter here.

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About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America's pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.