Recently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) issued a notice announcing new procedures that it intends to implement when FSIS or other Federal or State agencies find a presumptive positive for Escherichia coli (E. coli) O157:H7 in raw ground beef. The impetus behind these new procedures was to improve the agency’s ability to trace contaminated food products in the supply chain, to act against contaminated foods sooner, and to better protect consumers from foodborne illness in meat and poultry products.

FSIS is proposing to launch traceback investigations sooner and pinpoint additional potentially contaminated product when the agency finds E. coli O157:H7 through its routine sampling program.

In the event that FSIS detects a presumptive positive test result for E. coli, the agency will identify the supplier of the product and any processors who received contaminated product from the supplier, once confirmation is received. According to FSIS representatives, this proposed change in policy gives FSIS the opportunity to better prevent contaminated product from reaching consumers.

Under FSIS’s current traceback policy, the agency does not begin conducting any investigations or follow up activities until positive results based on FSIS testing are identified or until outbreaks occur.

According to USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Elisabeth Hagen:

The additional safeguards we are announcing today will improve our ability to prevent foodborne illness by strengthening our food safety infrastructure. Together, these measures will provide us with more tools to protect our food supply, resulting in stronger public health protections for consumers.

She added, “We will be acting at the presumptive stage,” The new procedures are expected to expedite the investigation of E. coli contamination by a day or two. “When we’re talking about traceback, every minute counts,” said Hagen.

The agency is inviting any interested person to submit comments on this notice by mail or electronically at http://www.regulations.gov. FSIS is requesting that comments on the proposed policies and procedures be submitted by July 6, 2012.