A new report by the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service shows that Escherichia coli O157:H7 in ground beef samples has had a significant decline since 2000. The new data shows that E. coli O157:H7 is found in less than one quarter or 1% of ground beef samples, which is a 72% decline since 2000 in ground beef samples testing positive for the pathogen.

According to the Beef Board, the FSIS 2010 year-end results indicated there were 29 positive samples out of 11,616 taken in federal plants, no positives of 905 samples taken in retail stores and one positive out of 29 imported samples. The overall prevalence rate was 0.24%.

Mandy Carr Johnson, Executive Director of Research at National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, which contracts to manage the safety research program for the Beef Checkoff, says, “The beef industry has stayed vigilant in improving beef safety.  The Beef Checkoff has funded research projects since 1993 to better understand the safety challenges like E. coli O157 that impact beef’s safety.”

Carr Johnson adds that the Beef Checkoff’s safety research program has funded projects to provide post-harvest interventions for use in processing facilities for carcasses,  beef trim, and subprimals as well as pre-harvest interventions to be applied to cattle, all of which reduce the potential for contamination and offer the industry options to select from based on their production and processing system.

This effort has provided the “multiple hurdle approach” that has contributed to, along with the specific efforts by many companies, the decline in the E. coli O157 positive samples. “However, we know the work is not done,” she adds. “The continued optimization of current interventions, new intervention concepts and better understanding of the pathogen’s ability to live and survive in the system will be needed to continue this steady decline in the number of positive samples.”

FSIS summary data from this report can be found here.

For more about the Beef Checkoff’s investment in beef safety programs, click here.