At a recent conference focused on the prevention of E. coli, the USDA came prepared to comment on its current thinking relating to new and emerging policy initiatives. In turn, Dan Engeljohn (Deputy Assistant Administrator of the FSIS Office of Policy and Program Development) offered a number of pointed observations.

In cases involving a further processor which commingles raw materials from multiple suppliers, it can sometimes be difficult to trace the source of a subsequent outbreak to a single supplier. As a result, Engeljohn explained that the USDA is currently analyzing the merits of using the internal microbiological testing data generated by a further processor of product testing positive for pathogens to help the agency trace the pathogen back to the originating slaughter facility.

With respect to slaughter facilities themselves, Engeljohn also announced that the USDA may issue criteria for assessing prudent "high event day determinations.” Although the USDA concedes that 100 percent testing at any large slaughter operation would likely produce at least some positives during any given day of production, Engeljohn noted further that a large number of positives in a short period of time could potentially be a red flag.

Engeljohn also confirmed that the USDA is continuing its work on validating the methodology for testing and identifying non-O157 Shiga Toxin-Producing E. coli (STECS), from six serogroups (O26, O103, O111, O121, O45 and O145), in FSIS samples. Once sufficient baseline data can be collected and assessed, the agency will likely make a determination whether to classify any of these pathogens as adulterants in raw ground product. In addition, although whole-intact cuts of beef containing E. coli O157:H7 are not considered adulterated under current law, Engeljohn suggested that USDA is continuing to consider whether it may someday modify this standard.

Moving forward, we will, of course, continue to report on new and emerging developments.