WASHINGTON – Several years ago, a study that was conducted to ensure imported beef trim is safe to eat has evolved into an ongoing collaboration between US Department of Agriculture scientists who conducted the research and colleagues from Uruguay, which exports beef trim.

Marcia Wood of USDA’s Agriculture Research Service (ARS) explained that Joseph Bosilevac, a microbiologist who works at the ARS Roman L. Hruska US Meat Animal Research Center at Clay Center, Neb., and his colleagues researched 1,186 samples of beef trim from the US, as well as Australia, New Zealand and Uruguay. The last three countries provide more than half of America's beef imports. This research was requested since questions were raised if America's monitoring procedures for the safety of imported beef trim were sufficient enough for detecting pathogens, such as Escherichia coli in trim.

Among concerns was foodborne pathogens and their reported incidence aren't the same in different parts of the world. WhileE. coli O157:H7 is the leading species, or serotype, in severeE. coli-associated foodborne illness in the northern hemisphere, other toxin-producingE. coliserotypes, such as O111 in the southern hemisphere, have also been associated with outbreaks of foodborne illness, Bosilevac said.

Contaminants such asStaphylococcus aureus,Campylobacter,Salmonella,Listeriaand near relatives ofE. coli O157:H7 that can cause severe foodborne illness were sought after by the researchers. In the end, the pathogen-monitoring procedures used in the US today were determined to be adequate for evaluating imported beef trim safety.