E coli meeting to refine food safety efforts

By staff reporter

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Foodborne illness, Escherichia coli, Fsis

Governing bodies in the US are to hold a public meeting to examine
the prevalence of E coli, as well as the best ways to detect and
monitor it.

Shiga toxin-producing E coli (STEC), most commonly found in ground beef, has in the past been linked to outbreaks of bloody diarrhea, often leading to severe and fatal illness. The public meeting to be held on October 17 will be co-sponsored by the US Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), the Food and Drug Administration's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (FDA CFSAN), and the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It comes at a time of growing focus on the safety of the nation's food chain, following a string of high profile cases of foodborne outbreaks, including salmonella in peanut butter and E coli in spinach. STEC was first linked to severe illness in the early 1980s in North America. These outbreaks were associated with ground beef consumption, and E coli O157:H7 was the STEC identified as causing the illnesses, said FSIS. In 1994, the agency notified the public that raw ground beef contaminated with E coli O157:H7 is adulterated under the FMIA unless the ground beef is processed to destroy this pathogen. Also in 1994, FSIS began sampling and testing ground beef for E coli O157:H7. Shiga toxins are produced by other E coli serotypes in addition to E coli O157:H7, although not all STEC strains are pathogenic. Outbreaks associated with non-O157:H7 STECs have been reported worldwide, including thirteen in the United States from 1990 to 2006. Many outbreaks were attributed to consumption of fresh produce; none were attributed to ground beef consumption. However, in 2006, non-O157:H7 STEC illness was diagnosed in a patient in New York, and was thought to be linked to ground beef. The public meeting to be held later this month aims to solicit input from industry, consumers, academia, and other public health and regulatory agencies on the issue of whether non-O157:H7 STECs should also be considered to be adulterants. Topics to be addressed include the prevalence of -O157:H7 STEC in livestock and in finished product; the best methods for detecting pathogenic non-O157:H7 STECs in food; and how regulatory agencies should define, monitor, and control pathogenic non-O157:H7 STECs in food or raw products. The agenda will be finalized before the meeting date and posted on the FSIS website. Also, an official transcript of the meeting will be kept in the FSIS Docket Room when this becomes available. In the US an estimated 76 million cases of foodborne illness occur each year, causing about 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics for 2005. Since 1990, over 400 produce-related outbreaks have occurred across North America. According to 2006 statistics reported to the CDC by the Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network (also known as FoodNet), some pathogen-related illnesses are on the increase. FoodNet collects data from 10 US states regarding diseases caused by enteric pathogens transmitted commonly through food. The CDC identified 17,252 laboratory-confirmed cases of food poisoning in 2006, including 6,655 cases of salmonella and 590 cases of E coli O157. In 2005, 16,614 cases were identified, rising from 15,806 in 2004.

Related topics: Regulation, Food safety and labeling

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