Walmart and Sam’s Club have announced that they will impose enhanced food safety measures on their beef suppliers.

According to the company, the new mandates are designed to reduce to the greatest extent possible the risk of potential contamination by pathogens such as E. coli O157:H7 and Salmonella. Click on the the following link to view Walmart’s Beef Safety Press Release.

Under the new standards, beef processing (grinding) facilities which supply the company will be required to provide validated evidence within the next year that their process controls can achieve a 2-log reduction of pathogenic microorganisms. By June 2011, slaughter facilities supplying the company will be required to demonstrate a 3-log reduction. In turn, Walmart has also mandated that, by June 2012, slaughter facilities must go even further and validate a cumulative 5-log reduction.

Dr. James Marsden, a food safety scientist, stated that “Walmart has taken steps to provide its customers with the safest possible beef products. Consumers across the United States will benefit greatly from this timely food safety initiative.” Given the breadth of Walmart’s influence, Dr. Marsden’s comment cannot be underscored enough. More than 200 million people shop at the 4,300 Walmart stores throughout the nation.

Walmart’s imposition of more stringent standards does not mean, however, that most manufacturers are not already doing virtually everything they can to produce safe and wholesome food. Tyson, a major Walmart beef supplier, believes that its food safety measures are already in line with the new protocol. Thus, for many suppliers, meeting Walmart’s expectations will likely only entail producing microbiological testing data to verify that those interventions already in place are effective. With that said, however, most also agree that any new requirements set by the retail giant can only push those manufacturers not already reaching a very high standard to strive even harder.

Of note, Walmart excluded irradiation as an approved intervention for its beef. Although irradiation can safely destroy pathogens in ground beef, some types can slightly affect beef quality and many consumers are still leery of the concept. Nevertheless, as we reported previously, the technology is improving and hopefully someday, with additional research and consumer education, it will be a viable alternative for all foods.

In any event, while researches and industry continue to seek new interventions that may someday effectively eliminate pathogens in ground beef, Walmart’s new requirements appear to be yet another step in the right direction as we all strive to make the food we eat as safe as possible.