USDA Set to Expand E. Coli Testing

USDA Set to Expand E. Coli TestingThe U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is expanding its E. coli testing in the hopes that the some of the serious illnesses and deaths caused by the dangerous pathogen can be minimized.

Effective Monday, said Bloomberg Businessweek, the meat industry will be mandated to test beef trimmings for an additional six new strains of E. coli that have been linked, more and more, to illnesses in recent years.

Today, the meat industry has only been required to test for E. coli strain O157:H7, which was identified following the historic Jack in the Box E. coli outbreak that killed four children. Beef trimmings are parts of the cow used to make ground beef and which are later expanded to make other cuts and ground beef itself.

And, while illnesses from E. coli O157:H7 have dropped in the years since, rises have been seen in E. coli infections from other foods, including ground beef and lettuce, noted Businessweek. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the expansion is necessary to protect Americans from food borne illnesses. “We cannot ignore the evidence that these pathogens are a threat in our nation’s food supply,” Vilsack said, wrote Businessweek.

Food safety advocates have been urging for expanded testing; however, changes were put off when the meat industry fought a proposal presented to the Obama administration. Industry argued that testing was too expensive and provided little benefits, explained Businessweek.

E. coli symptoms show up within one-to-eight days and there are hundreds of strains, with many found in humans and animals and some classified as shigella-toxin producing E. coli. These are very dangerous, even deadly.

Some E. coli strains are needed for digestion. Those that are harmful, deadly, and toxin producing, may cause severe diarrhea, stomach cramps, and bloody stool. Most seriously, kidney failure and death may occur. For instance, hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) is a serious disease in which red blood cells are destroyed and the kidneys fail, affecting about 10% of E. coli sufferers.

Infants, children, pregnant women, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems are especially at risk to E. coli poisoning and poisoning from other food borne illnesses.

Other adverse effects, some long-term and serious, include Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) and a form of reactive arthritis called Reiters Syndrome. Some victims require kidney transplants and may have scarred intestines that cause lasting digestive difficulty and some patients who supposedly recovered, can experience long-term health problems. E. coli can also cause disease in the brain, seizures, coma, or blood clots in the brain.

In 2011, the USDA collected some 2,700 samples for testing from meat processing plants across the nation. That number will remain the same, but testing will include the six additional E. coli strains, said Businessweek.

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