WASHINGTON — U.S.D.A.'s Food Safety Inspection Service is issuing guidance for inspectors to expand beef sampling for E. coli to regularly include bench trim. F.S.I.S. will also be issuing streamlined, consolidated instructions to its personnel for inspection, sampling and other actions to reduce E. coli O157:H7 in beef, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced on July 31.

Industry responds

The most recent announcement of the expansion from testing typical beef trimmings that are used for the manufacturing of ground beef to include the sampling of bench trim should come as no surprise to the meat industry, Jay Wenther, Ph.D., executive director, American Association of Meat Processors, told MEAT&POULTRY.com. For months, F.S.I.S. officials have verbally encouraged establishments to test these raw materials that are produced from the conversion of boxed beef to steaks, roasts and other products, if those raw materials are utilized in the production of ground beef, Mr. Wenther said.

"A.A.M.P. has encouraged its members to either lot these bench trimmings into a sampling program, attempt to establish relationships with further processors who may ensure the thermal processing of such materials, or divert these ‘bench trimmings’ to the in-house production of fully cooked meat products," he added.

"With the absence of an Under Secretary of Food Safety who is directly involved with meat industry issues on a daily basis, it is our hope Mr. Vilsack clearly understands the implications of such an initiative," Mr. Wenther added. "At this time, the meat industry has not been told how exactly a potential positive E. coli O157:H7 result found within these bench trimmings will be handled. Specifically, it is not understood how F.S.I.S. will handle the disposition of the primal meat cuts associated with the bench trim found to be positive or the other primal meat cuts that may have been produced within the same lot code.

"It is A.A.M.P.’s contention that all establishments, regardless of establishment H.A.C.C.P. category size or volume of meat produced, be treated equally and F.S.I.S. not handle these potential issues on a case-by-case basis — (or it would lead) to industry confusion and frustration," he concluded.

Jeremy Russell, director of communications and government relations with the National Meat Association, told MEAT&POULTRY.com, N.M.A. is encouraging its members to be proactive in dealing with pathogens. "It's important for meat companies not to wait for F.S.I.S. regulation, but rather to take the lead in addressing food-safety issues," Mr. Russell said. "We're telling members to consider a trim-sampling program of their own, to add an intervention on subprimals after trimming and to institute a set-aside procedure on trim-sampled subprimals that ensures they're used as intact cuts.

"As always, "N.M.A. supports the agency's efforts to address food-safety concerns anywhere in the chain that risk can occur. Importantly, (Friday’s) announcement represents another step in strategy set out recently by the President's Food Safety Working Group and N.M.A. continues to support the direction of that strategy," Mr. Russell said.