Tomorrow FSIS will hold a meeting to discuss “challenges and proposed solutions in moving forward to address recalls and illnesses related to E. coli O157:H7.”  The meeting will “explore proposed next steps as a means to make progress in the challenge of addressing E. coli O157:H7 and non-O157:H7 STECs.”. FSIS is also planning a “short term study to determine the extent to which non-O157 STECs may be present in FSIS-regulated products.”

Non-O157 Shiga toxin-producing E. Coli. is an important issue for food producers and sellers. Although non-O157 bugs have been implicated in food-borne outbreaks in recent years, serious questions exist concerning the scientific basis for implicating non-O157 bugs.

As discussed last October at the USDA’s conference on non-O157 E. coli, scientific challenges abound and uncertainties prevail in identifying and dealing with non-O157 Shiga toxin-producing E. coli. Little research currently exists. Often epidemiologists assume that non-O157 bugs behave and appear like E. coli O157:H7, and microbiologists looking for PFGE or genetic links between bugs apply the same run parameters and criteria. Yet many believe that comparing O157 bugs to non-O157 bugs may be like comparing apples to oranges.

Fortunately, I will have the opportunity to question many of the participants in this Friday’s FSIS meeting at Seattle University School of Law’s food law symposium. I’m looking forward to an update on the progress of non-O157 research.