US toughens ability to track mince virus outbreak

By Oscar Rousseau

- Last updated on GMT

USDA’s Al Almanza: new measures on ground beef are a "common-sense step".
USDA’s Al Almanza: new measures on ground beef are a "common-sense step".

Related tags: Bacteria, Foodborne illness, Usda, Beef

The US department that safeguards the industry and consumers from dangerous foodborne illnesses has launched a protocol to improve virus detection in a bid to protect consumers from future outbreaks.

Foodborne illnesses cost the US economy $15.6bn every year, according to The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) but new measures, which come into effect in six months’ time, will help health agencies detect outbreaks faster.

Now, all producers of raw ground beef products will need to keep detailed records of the source of their produce. This way, the Food Safety and Inspect Service (FSIS) will be able to quickly liaise with suppliers of the contaminated product to ensure the product is recalled and protect consumers from infection.

These new measures are set to optimise the FSIS’ ability to determine the source of dangerous foodborne illnesses linked to ground beef products.

The USDA is the parent agency of FSIS and, not known as fast-food speed supplier of policy, has rapidly updated its measures on detecting foodborne illnesses linked to ground beef.

Common sense  

In the past, outbreak investigations have been hindered by the lack of information supplied by retail stores which produce ground beef by mixing products from various sources. Many of these retails, claims the USDA, fail to keep “clear records​” on product origin, which are crucial to investigators who try to ascertain the supplier that produced the contaminated product.

On the new measure, the USDA’s deputy under secretary for food safety, Al Almanza, declared: “This is a common-sense step that can prevent foodborne illness and increase consumer confidence when they purchase ground beef.

In the event that [an] unsafe product does make it into commerce, these new procedures will give us the information we need to act much more effectively to keep families across the country safe.​”

Same game, new rules​ 

Under new FSIS rules, all processors and retail stores supplying raw ground beef products must record the following: the number of establishments supplying materials used to prepare raw ground beef; supplier names, lot numbers and production dates; time and dates of when each lot of raw ground beef product was made; and the date and time of when grinding equipment has been cleaned and sanitised.

The USDA has not confirmed what the punishment will be if stores fail to adhere to the new measures, saying only they would take “regulatory control actions​”.

However, according to the deputy under secretary for food safety at USDA, Brian Ronholm, these measures will “facilitate recall efforts that could stop outbreaks and prevent additional foodborne illnesses.”

Foodborne illnesses – colloquially referred to as food poisoning – are caused after the consumption of food contaminated by pathogenic bacteria, viruses or parasites. Common foodborne illnesses derive from the bacteria like E.coli which, this year alone, has caused panic for several US food retailers, including Starbucks​ and Chipotle.

Related topics: Meat

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