WASHINGTON – A presumptive positive test for E. coli O157:H7 in ground beef will trigger a Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) investigation, the agency announced Aug. 13. The expedited traceback procedures will be implemented 60 days after publication in the Federal Register. The agency expects that dozens more recalls may occur once the new expedited procedures are implemented.

Under the new traceback procedures, FSIS will launch immediate investigations at businesses whose ground beef tests positive for E. coli O157:H7 during initial testing and at suppliers that provided source materials. The agency said traceback investigations will begin as soon as FSIS receives a presumptive positive result and the grinding facility can provide supplier information.

Previously, traceback investigations began at the grinding facility only after a presumptive positive test result was confirmed, a process that could take two days, according to FSIS. Subsequent investigations would occur 30 days later at the grinding facility's suppliers. FSIS said the expedited traceback procedures would save investigators valuable time.

“A critical component of preventing foodborne illness is quickly identifying sources of contamination and removing unsafe products from store shelves,” said Brian Ronholm, Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety. “The expedited traceback procedures being announced today will allow FSIS to take action more quickly, which will make a significant difference in food-safety investigations and in preventing foodborne illnesses.”

In addition to traceback investigations, FSIS will review company records to find any breakdown in a company's food-safety system. FSIS will determine whether the supplier may have shipped contaminated meat to other grinding facilities or further processors. The agency will have the product removed from commerce in those cases where product was shipped.