Why have there been several recalls of meat this year?
Some inspectors are saying it’s because processing plants are tolerating E.coli.
The Chicago Tribune reports:
One federal inspector calls it the “E. coli loophole.” Another says, “Nobody would buy it if they knew.”
The officials are referring to the little-discussed fact that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has deemed it acceptable for meat companies to cook and sell meat on which E. coli, a bacterium that can sicken and even kill humans, is found during processing.
The “E. coli loophole” affects millions of pounds of beef each year that tests positive for the presence of E. coli O157:H7, a particularly virulent strain of the bacterium.
Cooking the meat, the USDA and producers say, destroys the bacteria and makes it safe to eat as precooked hamburgers, meat loaf, crumbled taco meat and other products.
But some USDA inspectors say the “cook only” practice means that higher-than-appropriate levels of E. coli are tolerated in packing plants, raising the chance that clean meat will become contaminated. They say the “cook only” practice is part of the reason for this year’s sudden rise in incidents of E. coli contamination.
“All the product that is E. coli positive, they put a ‘cooking only’ tag on it,” said one inspector, who like other federal inspectors interviewed asked to remain anonymous for fear of losing their jobs. “They [companies] will test, and everything that’s positive, they slap that label on.”
There is no evidence that “cook only” meat has directly sickened consumers. But some inspectors contend that the practice conceals significantly higher levels of E. coli bacteria in packing plants than the companies admit to. That’s because companies that find E. coli are allowed to shift that meat immediately into “cook only” lines, without reporting it to the USDA.
There’s a newly emerging dangerous form of E.coli bacteria known as O157:H7. The temperature high enough to kill it is 160 degrees Fahrenheit.