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USDA: Science-based Policies Reduce Some Food-borne Illness

WASHINGTON, DC - The U.S. Department of Agriculture stated that its science-based policies to combat deadly bacteria in meat, poultry and egg products are paying off based on the announcement by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of a reduction in certain food-borne illness.

"The CDC, in its annual report on the incidence of infections from food-borne pathogens, noted significant declines from 1996 to 2003 in illnesses caused by E. coli O157:H7 (42%), Salmonella (17%), Campylobacter (28%) and Yersinia (49%). Illnesses caused by Salmonella Typhimurium (typically associated with meat and poultry) decreased by 38%. Most significantly, between 2002 and 2003, illnesses caused by E. coli O157:H7, typically associated with ground beef, dropped by 36%. The reduction in E. coli O157:H7 illnesses brings the U.S. very close to achieving the 'Healthy People 2010' goal of 1.0 case per 100,000 people," said Dr. Elsa Murano, under secretary of agriculture for food safety.

Murano added that the report demonstrates that progress is being made toward the dual goals of preventing illness and protecting public health. The data, while inclusive of all foods, generally tracks the trends revealed through random regulatory testing of meat, poultry and egg products by the Food Safety and Inspection Service. The statistics pertain to potential outbreaks based on pathogens in food, not human-to-human dissemination of viruses, such as the norovirus.

Murano also said recalls for Salmonella, E. coli O157:H7 and Listeria in FSIS-regulated products also dropped from 65 in 2002 to 28 in 2003. This is due to the fact that in the past 18 months, FSIS implemented a series of policies and directives to control E. coli O157:H7, Salmonella and Listeria, she noted.

Among them are:

  • Mandating that all slaughter and ground beef establishments reassess their HACCP plans. The reassessments led most establishments to either implement an intervention strategy at grinding or require their suppliers to do so;

  • The first comprehensive audits of HACCP plans for scientific validity that are carried out by an expanded, scientifically-trained force of FSIS HACCP experts and epidemiologists;

  • Elimination of the E. coli O157:H7 testing exemption at slaughter plants that did their own carcass testing. All beef plants are now subject to FSIS ground-beef sampling;

  • Creation of a new training program, Food Safety Regulatory Essentials, to improve training of inspectors in science-based regulations;

  • Accelerating the scheduling of in-depth reviews of plants that have exceeded their Salmonella performance standards so that potential sanitation problems can be identified and corrected promptly; and,

  • Publishing a final rule to control Listeria monocytogenes, based on a quantitative risk assessment and to establish mitigation strategies that would result in risk reduction at ready-to-eat meat and poultry processing plants.

    "The CDC data provide us with a benchmark and a challenge. We can see progress but our efforts against pathogens are not finished. Through research, education and the application of effective regulations, we intend to make the safest food supply in the world even safer," Murano said.

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