USDA announces new testing rules for foodborne pathogens

Last week, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, announced a new rule proposed by the USDA that would require all beef, pork and poultry producers in the US to test their products for potential contaminants, and hold them until test results had proven the meat products safe, before releasing the foods for sale.

Secretary Vilsack told reporters that the new rule would eliminate some 25,000 cases of food poisoning a year—maybe more—preventing serious health risks associated with common dangerous food borne pathogens such as E. coli and salmonella.

Current USDA regulations allow animal flesh producers to sell their raw meat products into market after conducting pathogen testing but before the test results are in, which has led to a number of recalls responsible for serious illnesses and deaths from eating contaminated meat. The Centers for Disease Control’s Web site states that, “More than 200 known diseases are transmitted through food. The causes of foodborne illness include viruses, bacteria, parasites, toxins, metals, and prions, and the symptoms of foodborne illness range from mild gastroenteritis to life-threatening neurologic, hepatic, and renal syndromes.”

Testing and holding meat products is already common practice for many of the large concentrated animal feed operation establishments, such as Tyson Foods and Cargill, and Vilsack said that those larger-scale producers are in favor of the new rule. It’s the smaller scale and family-operated farmers and suppliers that may be challenged to make the transition to the new guidelines.

The CDC estimates that, “foodborne diseases cause approximately 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths in the United States each year. Known pathogens account for an estimated 14 million illnesses, 60,000 hospitalizations, and 1,800 deaths.”

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Photo: senc01a