WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Agriculture has completed the new food safety standards for ground beef purchased by the Agricultural Marketing Service for federal nutrition assistance and school lunch programs. The new standards will go into effect July 1.
In addition to continuing the zero tolerance policy for E. coli O157:H7 and Salmonella, the new standards will tighten microbiological testing protocols. Under the new standards, the A.M.S. will align or exceed the Food Safety and Inspection Service E. coli O157:H7 n60 testing protocols for boneless beef with F.S.I.S. protocols that should be issued this summer.
The new standards also will tighten the microbiological upper specification and critical limits processors must meet. Manufacturing plants will need to maintain a process that consistently beats the upper specification limits and no product will be accepted from any vendor that exceeds the critical limits.
Microbiological sampling frequency for finished products will be increased to every 15 minutes, and additional rejection criteria for source trimmings used to manufacture A.M.S. purchased ground beef will be instituted. The A.M.S. also will consider any vendor classified by the F.S.I.S. as having a long-term poor safety record as an ineligible vendor until a complete cause-and-effect analysis is completed.
“The health of our school children is a top priority at U.S.D.A., and today we are moving ahead quickly with plans announced earlier this year to ensure that food provided to nutrition programs is as safe and nutritious as possible,” said Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. “The new standards announced today ensure our purchases are in line with major private-sector buyers of ground beef and are part of our continued effort to employ the best scientific knowledge to increase the safety of our nutritional programs.”