The number of microbial pathogens threatening our food supply is substantial.
Among the better known is a large group of bacteria named Escherichia coli,
or E. coli. While many strains of it are harmless, others can be deadly.
Particularly infamous among E. coli serotypes is O157:H7, identified about 30
years ago and often linked to outbreaks from undercooked ground beef. For more
than two decades it has been considered an adulterant, although, of late, the
beef industry has made huge strides in combating O157.
However, while O157 may be the best-known pathogenic E. coli strain,
it is far from the only one. Data recently released by FoodNet for 2010
suggested that non-O157 E. coli illnesses are, for the first time, more
prevalent than those caused by O157. In fact, in 2011, one of the deadliest food
borne illness outbreaks ever, which struck German consumers, involved E. coli
The serotypes O157 and O104, along with more than 100 other E. coli strains,
are harmful because they produce shiga toxins. In recent years, the USDA has
taken an increased interest in shiga toxin-producing E. coli, known as STECs. On
Sept. 13, 2011, the USDA announced its plans to prohibit the sale of ground beef
or its precursors containing E. coli serogroups O26, O103, O45, O111, O121 and
O145. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control believes that more than 70 percent of
the non-O157 E. coli illnesses are caused by these six serotypes. (Ironically,
O104, the serotype that caused last summer’s deadly outbreak in Germany, is not
on the USDA’s list of the “big six.”)
In September 2011, the USDA announced its intentions to assign these six
serotypes the same legal status as O157 — that of an “adulterant” under the
Federal Meat Inspection Act. The USDA will now require testing for and zero
tolerance of these six STECs in ground beef or its predecessor products.
Although the new regulation was originally scheduled to be implemented on March
5, 2012, a robust outbreak of public comments resulted in a 90-day delay, until
June 5, 2012. The new policy appears likely, however, to go into effect then.
Companies affected should carefully review and, as needed, update their HACCP
plans, sanitation SOPs and testing procedures. The challenges these new
regulations present to the industry are substantial and require careful, advance
planning. McGuireWoods LLP’s dedicated
food and beverage industry team stands
ready to assist. Our experienced team of professionals can assist your company
to develop or just refine its Recall Plan; Inspection SOPs, HACCP review or
Testing Protocol. The food safety attorneys at McGuireWoods can help in
facilitating your response to the new USDA regulations and the litigation that