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Stricter testing for federal ground beef program may not lead to safer meat
Date:12/9/2010

WASHINGTON A new National Research Council report finds no scientific basis that more stringent testing of meat purchased through the government's ground beef purchase program and distributed to various federal food and nutrition programs -- including the National School Lunch Program -- would lead to safer meat.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) buys ground beef from suppliers who must meet mandatory process, quality, traceback, and handling controls as well as comply with strict limitations on the amounts of bacteria in the meat, such as E. coli and salmonella. AMS then distributes the ground beef to federal programs, including food banks, emergency feeding programs, Indian reservations, and disaster relief agencies. In its assessment of AMS's ground beef purchase program, the committee that wrote the report said validated cooking processes provide greater assurance of ground beef's safety than would additional testing for pathogens. Testing alone cannot guarantee the complete absence of pathogens because of statistical implications associated with how beef is sampled during testing.

The committee's analysis of the number of illnesses since 1998 linked with AMS ground beef provided to schools suggests that outbreaks were rare events before AMS requirements became more stringent in February, implying that controls already in place were appropriate for protecting public health. For instance, no recorded outbreaks of E. coli or salmonella associated with AMS ground beef have occurred in more than a decade. Prevention of future outbreaks will depend on eliminating contamination during production and ensuring meat is properly handled, stored, and cooked before it is served, the committee emphasized.

As part of its review, the committee also attempted to compare the AMS specifications with those of large industry purchasers of ground beef. Among purchasers, the committee f
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Contact: Jennifer Walsh
news@nas.edu
202-334-2138
National Academy of Sciences
Source:Eurekalert

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