Press Release

Gillibrand Urges USDA to Regulate 6 Deadly, Unchecked E. Coli Strands

Apr 26, 2010

Washington, DC – Continuing her commitment to keep all families safe from contaminated food, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today urged U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack to include six additional strands of E. coli as hazardous adulterants that need to be tested by the USDA.

In addition to the most common form of E. coli that is already regulated, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified six other strands, known as non-0157 STECs, that are just as hazardous as E. coli and need to be regulated. The CDC estimates that non-0157 STECs cause 36,700 illnesses, 1,100 hospitalizations and 30 deaths in America each year.

“In America, in 2010, it is unconscionable that food is still going straight to our kitchens, school cafeterias and restaurants without being properly tested to ensure its safety,” Senator Gillibrand said. “It’s spreading too many diseases and costing too many lives. The laws that are meant to keep us safe from hazardous foods are in critical need of updating. We need immediate action to keep our families safe.”

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, but is never checked for since current law only requires imported ground beef to be checked for E. coli 0157:H7.

Safe Tables Our Priority (STOP) is leading the petition campaign calling on the USDA to expand the official E. coli classifications to include non-0157 STECs as a hazardous, regulated adulterant, and to regulate all strands of E. coli for all types of beef, not just ground beef or beef intended for ground beef.

Senator Gillibrand’s letter to Secretary Vilsack asks for an official response to the two petitions requesting that the USDA include the additional strands of E. coli in their required testing. The full letter is below:

April 22, 2010

Dear Secretary Vilsack,

I am writing to you today to urge you to respond formally to two petitions to the USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Services: 1) Petition for an Interpretive Rule Declaring all enterohemorrhagic Shiga Toxin-producing Serotypes of Escherichia coli (E. coli), including Non-O157 Serotypes, to be Adulterants Within the Meaning of 21 U.S.C. § 601(m)(1)  – Petition #09-03; and, 2) S.T.O.P.-Safe Tables Our Priority’s Call to Action and Public Petition.

These petitions detail the scientific and legal bases for listing non-0157 STECs as adulterants. Such listings will avoid the same kind of large-scale disaster that precipitated the 1994 declaration of E. coli O157:H7 as an adulterant.  S.T.O.P.’s petition also calls for the expansion of the definition of adulterant to include E. coli O157:H7 and these six other STEC when they are in any type of beef, not just ground beef or beef intended for ground beef. With these actions, USDA will take a significant leap forward in ensuring the safety of American consumers.

In light of current scientific and medical research, the health hazards posed by STEC are undeniable.  The CDC recognized these hazards in 2000 when the agency made all STEC nationally notifiable.  Since reporting was implemented in 2001, instances of non-O157 STEC have steadily increased year by year.  In 2005 alone, 501 cases of non-O157 STEC were reported through the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System.  This has become an issue that is too important and too urgent to ignore any longer.  Indeed, in a presentation given on September 14, 2009, L. Hannah Gould, MS, PhD from the CDC stated that non-O157 STEC causes an estimated 36,700 illnesses, 1,100 hospitalizations, and 30 deaths annually.

As the numbers of reported illnesses from non-O157 STEC steadily increase, immediate action on this issue is critical. Please respond formally to these petitions, and send me a copy of this response.


Kirsten E. Gillibrand
United States Senator