Beef Industry Continues Battle With E. Coli

It is no coincidence that the U.S. beef supply is the safest in the world as beef safety is the No. 1 priority of America’s beef producers. Since 1993, beef producers have invested more than $25 million in beef safety research through the beef checkoff, and the beef industry has collectively invested approximately $400 million in beef safety research in the past decade.
The industry’s No. 1 foe in providing safe beef is E. coli O157:H7, which is one of hundreds of strains of the bacterium Escherichia coli (E. coli). E. coli is a natural environmental contaminant which is found and transferred in numerous places, including any place humans or animals live. There are hundreds of E. coli strains in the intestines of warm-blooded animals and humans, and most are harmless. However, one particular strain, O157:H7, can produce a powerful toxin and can cause illness.
To ensure the continued safety of beef against pathogens such as E. coli O157:H7, the beef industry long ago decided to make safety a non-competitive and collaborative topic.
For example, industry leaders recently convened at the 2007 Beef Industry Safety Summit to discuss advancements and continue collaborating on best practices. This working meeting started in 2003, when the Beef Industry Food Safety Council (BIFSCo), an organization that is led by America’s beef producers and includes representatives from each sector of the industry, organized an E. coli Summit to develop unified best-practice documents that serve as a blueprint for making U.S. beef an even safer product.
Today, the best-practice documents are considered the industry standard and are updated yearly to include the most up-to-date scientific and technological information for each segment of the production chain. The documents were written and approved by people who use these practices every day in their sectors of the beef industry.
Beef producers and BIFSCo members are not alone in the fight against E. coli. The dedication of time and resources from pasture to plate, by every person in the beef production chain, is evident in the reduction of foodborne pathogens such as E. coli O157:H7. For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) sets a strict, low baseline for pathogens in food, and partners in the beef production chain have achieved sampling results well below the baseline requirements for the last six years. Between 2000 and 2005, the incidence of E. coli O157:H7 in ground beef declined more than 80 percent.
Each partner in the beef production chain plays a role and has a responsibility for keeping beef safe. Today, every step of the beef chain remains committed to fighting the battle against foodborne pathogens and that dedication extends to retail, foodservice and consumers. The beef industry is focused on leading a collective effort based on prevention with an emphasis on information exchange at all levels.
– Compiled from industry and government reports.