US: STECs and the importance of strategic interventions
Posted: November 29th, 2011 - 1:15pm
Any realtor will tell you that the value of real estate is dictated by “location, location, location.” The safety of food products is dependent on “interventions, interventions, interventions.”
Last week, the North American Meat Processors Association presented a webinar on USDA’s new shiga toxin producing E. coli (STEC) policy, featuring Dan Engeljohn, FSIS Deputy Administrator for Policy. One of the most significant points of his presentation dealt with the issue of strategic interventions in slaughter and processing operations. FSIS believes that the interventions already in place to control E. coli O157:H7 will also be effective at controlling STEC’s. I agree with their position and research is beginning to come forward that supports that theory.
Of course, FSIS is assuming that all slaughter and processing plants have already implemented strategic, effective interventions to address contamination on beef carcasses, trimmings and non-intact beef products. My experience is that most slaughter plants do in fact have these in place. They certainly aren’t perfect and there is always room for improved additional slaughter interventions. I have long believed that some form of carcass pasteurization will ultimately be required to fully address the problem of E. coli O157:H7 and other STECs. Unfortunately, a true pasteurization step is not yet available.
The very good, but imperfect beef slaughter interventions utilized today, reduce but don’t eliminate the risk of E. coli O157:H7 and other STECs in beef trimmings and subprimals. In order to truly get a handle on pathogen contamination in beef products, the slaughter interventions must be supplemented with further processing interventions.
Interventions are available to ground beef processors and steak cutters to further reduce pathogen risks, but they aren’t universally applied. One of Dr. Engeljohn’s statements in the webinar addressed further processing interventions. He encouraged further processors to consider additional interventions and suggested that they will be effective in reducing both E. coli O157:H7 and other STECs in consumer beef products.
I consider further processing interventions to be important, strategic steps in controlling contamination in consumer ground beef and non-intact steaks. The fact that they are applied late in the process means that they address contamination that made its way through the slaughter process and also post-slaughter contamination. If I were designing a process for ground beef or non-intact products, I would apply multiple interventions right up until the time the products are packaged.
The beef industry has made great progress in addressing the problem of E. coli O157:H7. Unfortunately, non-O157 STECs pose a whole new problem and may greatly increase the risk of adulteration in trimmings, ground beef and non-intact products. The only way I see to control the risk of STEC contamination is by combining effective slaughter interventions with equally effective further processing interventions.
A few companies have already announced their intention to test for other STECs along with E. coli O157:H7. You can bet that they already have effective interventions in place and know they are already controlling both.