The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) on Sept. 5 called attention (via Twitter) to a page on its website that illuminates the history and objectives of its Microbiological Testing Program for E. coli O157:H7 and non-O157 Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC).

The report notes: "On October 17, 1994, FSIS began a microbiological testing program to detect Escherichia coli O157:H7 in raw ground beef. The objectives of the testing program have evolved over time. An original objective was to stimulate industry testing and other actions to reduce the presence of the pathogen in raw ground beef."

It continues, "Today, FSIS considers product sampling to be one of several activities conducted to verify the effectiveness of HACCP systems. Since the initiation of the FSIS testing program, many grinders and suppliers of raw ground beef components have instituted programs to routinely test their ground beef products or raw materials used in ground beef products for E. coli O157:H7."

Discussing changes to the program over time, the report explains:

Over time, FSIS has taken steps to improve the public health effectiveness of this testing program by detection of lower numbers of this pathogen through increased sample size and adoption of new more sensitive methods. All regulatory analyses of raw ground beef and raw ground beef products are performed in FSIS laboratories located in Alameda, CA; St. Louis, MO; and Athens, GA, and have been reported as of sample analysis completion date. Therefore, all text, tables and graphs through 2007 were based upon sample analysis completion date. Beginning in 2008, quarterly and annual reports and figures are based upon sample collection date. Weekly reports are still posted by analysis completion date due to overlapping from one week to the next.

Today, there are approximately 1,400 federally inspected establishments producing raw ground beef subject to 9 CFR 319.15 (a), (b), or (c), the raw ground beef products that are currently routinely sampled for E. coli O157:H7 as part of the Agency's HACCP verification program. In recent years most raw ground beef samples have been collected at the federally inspected establishments. The Agency still collects some samples from retail stores, but normally only when (1) the retail store produces raw ground beef using whole muscle or trimmings from a cutting/boning operation conducted at the store, or (2) the retail store does not maintain records of raw beef suppliers or records documenting clear and accurate grinding logs.

In earlier years, FSIS analyzed some samples from State inspected establishments when not all State programs had the capability to test for E. coli O157:H7. All States now have their own testing program for raw ground beef. The number of samples analyzed from imported raw ground beef will vary depending on the volume of imported product.

In addition, the report includes the following sections:

  • Categories of Samples Used in Reporting
  • 2007 Results: Actions Taken to Reduce E. coli O157:H7
  • Scheduling of Samples
  • Seasonal Variations
  • Trim Sampling
  • 2008 Results
  • 2009: Bench Trim Sampling
  • 2009: Raw Ground Beef Sampling
  • 2010 Results
  • 2010 Trim and Other Components of Raw Ground Beef Sampling
  • 2010 Raw Ground Beef Sampling
  • 2012: Testing for non-O157 Shiga toxin-producing E. coli

The full report is available by clicking here.