A drive in the US to reduce the foodborne disease E.coli could be paying off with fresh data from the department of agriculture (USDA) showing a drop in the number of ground beef products tainted with this pathogen.
Concerned about the failure of many large US beef plants to meet federal food safety regulations preventing E. coli O157:H7E presence, the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) launched a crackdown - with all beef plants warned to 're-examine their food safety plans'.
Inspectors this week reported a drop in the number of E. coli O157:H7 positive samples in ground beef from 0.78 per cent in 2002 to 0.32 per cent so far for 2003.
"The agency's sampling data suggests that initiatives begun in the past year are beginning to pay dividends," said FSIS administrator Dr. Garry L. McKee.
As part of the quest, the FSIS said that it had examined the HACCP plans at more than 1,000 beef establishments , as well as, crucially, ending a 1998 programme that exempted some establishments from random FSIS testing.
The bacteria Escherichia coli 0157:H7, is typically contracted through contaminated food - often uncooked beef - or water and can cause bloody diarrhoea, vomiting and cramps.
Foodborne pathogens cause an estimated 76 million cases of human illness annually in the US. The five pathogens responsible for this figure are Campylobacter, E. coli O157:H7, salmonella, Hepatitis A, Listeria, Norwalk and Shigella.