US beef industry backing research to tackle bug

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Escherichia coli, Foodborne illness, Bacteria

Despite recent recalls, the US beef industry is investing in research and new technologies to ensure beef safety and prevent E. coli contamination, claim industry representatives.

The Beef Industry Food Safety Council (BIFSCo), which includes cattle producers, feeders, processors and scientists as well as retailers and foodservice operators, said the beef industry invests $350m annually in beef safety efforts.

BIFSCO said that its objective is to develop industry-wide, science-based strategies to ensure beef safety and win the battle against E. coli O157:H7.

E. coli​ O157:H7 is a potentially deadly bacterium that can cause bloody diarrhoea, dehydration, and in the most severe cases, kidney failure. Children, the elderly and those with weak immune systems are the most susceptible.


Michelle Rossman, director of beef safety research, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, said that US beef producers alone have invested more than $27m since 1993 in beef safety research.

She told that BIFSCo continues to study new interventions and improve existing technologies as part of a comprehensive safety system from production to consumer.

“There is still a lot we need to know about E. coli to completely eliminate it. Therefore, beef safety research continues to be one of the industry’s highest priorities. We believe, and science proves, that one of the best ways to combat foodborne pathogens, like E. coli O157:H7 is with validated interventions,”​ added Rossman.


“BIFSCo’s experts believe in a multiple-hurdle approach to beef safety and our goal is to have 100 per cent of beef packing plants use one or more of the safety interventions the beef industry, under the leadership of BIFSCo, has researched, implemented and validated,”​ claims Rossman.

She said that hide washes, hand-held steam vacuums and carcass washes and sprays are examples of the important safety interventions that – in conjunction with employee training – collectively help improve the safety of beef products.


E. coli contamination is of particular concern to the US beef industry at present.

This month, Omaha meat packing company Nebraska Beef Ltd recalled 1.36m pounds of beef that may be contaminated with the O157:H7 strain of E. coli, following on from its recall of 5.3m pounds of material used in making ground beef in July after 40 illnesses were reported in connection with it.

The US Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) labelled both recalls Class 1, which means the product involved carries a high health risk, and said that the production practices employed by Nebraska Beef were insufficient to effectively control E. coli​ O157:H7 in their beef products intended for grinding.

The FSIS also issued a public health alert in May for beef products from Tyson Fresh Meats due to possible E. coli ​O157:H7 contamination, while in January, Minnesota-based Rochester Meat Co issued a recall of 188,000 pounds of ground beef and other products because of similar concerns.

Safety network

Though research remains a priority for BIFSCo, open communication and information sharing across the beef industry, according to Rossman, are also important in relation to ensuring beef safety.

“The optimal system of food safety assurance relies on a food safety network that extends from farm to consumer,”​ she said.

According to Rossman, representatives of every segment of the beef production chain attended the annual beef industry safety summit in Texas in March to exchange information on safety challenges and solutions, in addition to updating best practices based on the latest science.

University scientists presented research results at the summit on pre-harvest and processing interventions as well as pathogen data which will be used to enhance beef safety systems, said Rossman.

“Open communication and information sharing like this happens frequently and stimulates technology and knowledge adoption, which is an essential part of the continual improvement of beef safety systems,”​ according to Rossman.

Related topics: Food safety and labeling

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