USDA to declare zero tolerance for E. Coli strains


Monday, September 12, 2011

USDA to Declare Zero Tolerance Policy for “Big Six” E. Coli Strains
Consumers Union Applauds New Policy to Make Food Safer

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports, applauded reports that the Department of Agriculture (USDA) will declare the “Big Six” E. coli strains as adulterants. The new standard will expand the ban of these illness-causing pathogens in food products across the country and ensure a higher level of protection for consumers.
“By classifying these dangerous pathogens as adulterants, the USDA is adopting a ‘zero-tolerance’ policy toward E. coli in meat that we have long fought for,” said Jean Halloran, Director of Food Policy Initiatives at Consumers Union. “These strains of E. coli have been identified for years as causing serious illness and even death. This higher standard will help to ensure that disease causing food is kept off store shelves and out of consumers’ homes.”
Known as Shiga toxin-producing Esherichia coli, or STECs, the group to be banned includes the strains 026, 011, 0103, 0121, 045 and 0145. Prior to the policy change, only the O157:H7 E. coli strain was classified as an adulterant. These strains, like O157, have the ability to cause Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS) which is life-threatening.
Ami Gadhia, Senior Policy Counsel for Consumers Union said, “This is a big win for consumers. In the wake of many recent food recalls caused by E. coli contamination, it is critical that we take the necessary steps to protect the health and well being of all consumers. We applaud this decision by the USDA and will continue to work with regulators to keep unsafe foods out of the market.”
An estimated 265,000 STEC infections occur each year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). STEC O157 causes about 36% of these infections, and non-O157 STEC cause the rest.
Moving forward, it is expected that meat packers will be required to test for those strains of E. coli and it will be illegal to sell meat contaminated with the pathogens.
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