US: Plan now for stepped-up enforcement: Koohmarie, Peterson
Posted: February 18th, 2012 - 9:51am
Tucson, Ariz. -- Don’t plan on USDA’s Food Safety & Inspection Service pushing back the start of its sampling program for six strains of non-O157 shiga toxin-producing E. coli, warned Ken Peterson, FSIS Assistant Administrator for Field Operations, in comments to processors at the National Meat Association's annual convention here.
The sampling program, originally scheduled to launch in March, now will begin in June, and despite talk in the industry that FSIS could be persuaded to delay it further, “I wouldn’t take big bets on this not going forward,” Peterson told a standing-room-only crowd.
In a roundtable seminar discussion on “Science & Technology: STECs and Salmonella,” Peterson, Dr. Mohammad Koohmaraie of IEH Laboratories, Kurt Westmoreland of Silliker, and Melinda Hayman, from Food Safety Net Services, discussed the state of testing and prevention for Salmonella and E. coli O157:H7, and six other strains of STECs that may be declared adulterants.
Straight, no chaser
Peterson and Koohmaraie pulled no punches in their statements. In sampling for the presence of non-O157 STECs, “The prevalence initially is likely to be much higher than people would like it to be,” Koohmaraie said.
“If there’s a silver lining, it’s that this [process] will make us focus on what’s important, and that’s the control. We need to redouble our efforts, and [people] should start now,” he scolded. “I spend a lot of time in the plants, and I see a tremendous amount of variation in interventions. What they do is a lot different from what they said they do.”
As for FSIS’s plans to watch salmonella much more closely, he said, “Lots of us have been working in this area for close to a decade, we have control strategies. This is one case that if industry does not become proactive and control it … we are probably not more than two or three recalls away from having to deal with subsequent regulation.
“And if it comes to that, we’ve got no one to blame but ourselves,” Koohmaraie warned.
Ounce of prevention
For his part, Peterson sought to disabuse processors of the idea that FSIS is interested only in testing. “FSIS is not forgetting about prevention,” he said.
He went on to note, however, that when “bad things” happen, “when we look at your sanitary dressing process, more often than not there are clues that are there to be found. When we engage the establishment, we want to know, do you really understand your process? Do you have the right metrics? Do you have the right data? Do you react to that data?”
“That’s the common flaw that we see,” he explained, “is that the facts are there, but [executives] will talk themselves out of the facts.”