The Agriculture Department has announced that it will expand testing for E. coli in raw beef trimmings beginning this week.
The announcement came on the heels of a decision Wednesday by the Food and Drug Administration to deny a petition by the Corn Refiners Association to change the name of the sweetener high-fructose corn syrup to corn sugar on nutrition labels.
“We think they both got it correct, although to varying degrees,” said Dr. Michael Hansen of the Consumers Union.
Hansen said the FDA's ruling on corn syrup was particularly important, since some consumers have adverse reactions to high-fructose corn syrup and might have been misled by a change in the name.
He was less impressed with the Agriculture Department's decision to begin testing some raw beef products for six additional strains of E. coli that produce the so-called Shiga toxin — O26, O45, O103, O111, O121 and O145 — which, like their better-known cousin, E. coli O157:H7, can cause severe illness and death.
The department first proposed testing for the additional strains late last year, after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the number of confirmed cases of illness caused by these strains had exceeded the number caused by E. coli O157:H7.
The testing was to start in March but was delayed after members of the industry protested. The new tests will be done on raw beef trimmings, which are used in ground beef.
“These strains of E. coli are an emerging threat to human health, and the steps we are taking today are entirely focused on preventing Americans from suffering food-borne illnesses,” Tom Vilsack, the secretary of agriculture, said in a statement. “We cannot ignore the evidence that these pathogens are a threat in our nation's food supply.”