The chances of receiving an e.coli-contaminated batch of ground beef fell 43% last year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Monitors from the agency's Food Safety and Inspection Service found the deadly bacteria in only 13 of the 8,010 hamburger samples checked at meat-processing plants during 2004. That incidence of .17% compares with the prior year's .30%, or nearly twice the prevalence. The drop came despite a 21% increase in the number of inspections, which would tend to raise the number of contaminations detected.
The number of contaminated samples caught by inspectors has dropped 80% between 2000 and 2004, the USDA said.