September 13, 2011

After Push To Regulate 6, Deadly Unchecked E. Coli Strands, Gillibrand Announces USDA Approval To Name 6 Strands As Dangerous Adulterants

“Big 6” E. coli Strains Now Must Be Tested, Eliminated from Meat Supply

Washington, DC – After U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)’s push to regulate 6 deadly, unchecked E. coli strands, Senator Gillibrand announced today that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has named the six E. coli strands as dangerous adulterants that need to be tested by the USDA. This new measure would make it illegal to sell ground beef tainted with what’s known as the “Big 6” E. coli strands or non-0157 STECs, in addition to the most common form of E. coli that is already regulated. Starting in 2010, Senator Gillibrand has led the fight to ban these hazardous strains from the meat supply by urging USDA to take action and declare all forms of E. coli as an adulterant. Senator Gillibrand has also introduced legislation to target and test toxic strains of E. coli, making it illegal to sell contaminated beef. 

Senator Gillibrand said, “Today, we finally took action to keep contaminated food from reaching our dinner tables, kitchens, and restaurants. Properly testing our food will help protect our families, save lives and prevent many illnesses and future outbreaks.”

The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service will begin testing in March 2012. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that these six other strains, which are just as hazardous as E. coli, cause 36,700 illnesses, 1,100 hospitalizations and 30 deaths in America each year.

E. coli 0157:H7 is by far the most common strain in American beef. But non-0157 STECs are increasingly found in beef imported from other countries and is never checked for since current law only requires imported ground beef to be checked for E. coli 0157:H7.

Last May, Senator Gillibrand introduced new meat safety legislation that would target all high-risk pathogens and all currently unregulated strains of E. coli found in the meat supply that have been proven to cause food-borne illnesses. The bill would make it illegal to sell meat with these bacteria strains and requires companies to properly dispose of the contaminated batch, or cook the meat to a temperature that destroys the E. coli.

Senator Gillibrand has also urged the USDA to include the additional strands of E. coli in their testing and eliminate the pathogens from the food supply, making her case to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in April 2010 and Undersecretary for Food Safety Elisabeth Hagen in June 2011.

Click here and here for the Senator’s full letter to Secretary Vilsack and Undersecretary Hagen.