The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced today that it is taking new steps to fightE. coliand protect the safety of the American food supply. Six additional serogroups of pathogenic E. coliwill be declared adulterants in non-intact raw beef. Raw ground beef, its components, and tenderized steaks found to contain these bacteria will be prohibited from sale to consumers. USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) will launch a testing program to detect these dangerous pathogens and prevent them from reaching consumers.

As a result of today's action, if the E. coli serogroups O26, O103, O45, O111, O121 and O145 are found in raw ground beef or its precursors, those products will be prohibited from entering commerce. Like E.coli O157:H7, these serogroups can cause severe illness and even death, and young children and the elderly are at highest risk. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identifies these particular serogroups of non-O157:H7 Shiga-toxin producing E.coli, or non-O157 STEC, as those responsible for the greatest numbers of non-O157 STEC illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths in the United States.

"The Obama Administration is committed to protecting our food supply and preventing illnesses before they happen," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "Today's announcement does exactly that by targeting and eliminating contaminated products from the market. Too often, we are caught reacting to a problem instead of preventing it. This new policy will help stop problems before they start."

"The impact of foodborne illness on a family can be devastating," said Under Secretary Elisabeth Hagen. "Consumers deserve a modernized food safety system that focuses on prevention and protects them and their families from emerging threats. As non-O157 STEC bacteria have emerged and evolved, so too must our regulatory policies to protect the public health and ensure the safety of our food supply."

Today's action is an important part of the government-wide commitment to dealing with emerging microbial threats. Through the President's Food Safety Working Group, USDA and its federal partners have been working on a new, public health-focused approach to food safety based on the principles of prevention, strengthening surveillance and enforcement, and improving response.

"The Food and Drug Administration applauds USDA for taking this action to better protect consumers," said FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods Mike Taylor. "We are committed to working with FSIS to prevent disease causing non-O157 STEC bacteria in all foods. Through implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act, FDA will continue to place prevention at the core of the efforts to improve the food safety system."

FSIS will begin testing for these six serogroups of STEC and enforcing the new policy on March 5, 2012. The Agency invites interested persons to submit comments within 60 days of publication in the Federal Register. FSIS would like to hear from the public on a number of issues highlighted in the Federal Register notice, including the implementation of the policy and additional outreach the Agency will conduct, such as public meetings. The six strains of E. coli have been responsible for several illnesses tied to produce, but only one outbreak of meat-related foodborne illness has been tied to them, reports the New York Times. Three people fell ill in that 2010 outbreak.

Source: FSIS, New York Times