The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service ("FSIS") recently announced that it will extend the agency’s implementation date for non-O157:H7 STEC sampling and testing to June 4, 2012.

The extension, according to FSIS, was announced to give establishments additional time to validate their test methods and detect non-O157:H7 STECs prior to entering the stream of commerce.

As part of its zero-tolerance policy for E. coli O157:H7, FSIS will begin sampling both domestically produced and imported raw beef manufacturing trimmings and other raw ground beef components for the serogroups O26, O103, O45, O111, O121 and O145.

In a statement, AMI Executive Vice President Jim Hodges applauded the temporary delay, but argued again that additional research is still needed given the significant shift in agency policy.

“Even with a 90 day delay, imposing this new regulatory program in June puts the cart before the horse and will needlessly cost tens of millions of federal and industry dollars – costs that likely will be borne by taxpayers and consumers. In short, the policy is not likely to yield a significant public health benefit and given that research should precede and dictate the policy, the process that FSIS has followed in this matter is no way to develop good public policy.”

In the end, significant questions still exist regarding the prevalence and virulence of non-O157:H7 STECs in beef products. Time will tell whether the substantial resources being directed toward these new pathogens will, indeed, translate into a substantial improvement in public health.