Despite numerous illnesses among consumers, federal meat inspectors fail to test steaks and other mechanically tenderized beef products for a dangerous strain of E. coli, according to a newly released federal audit. That failure continues, according to the audit, “even though these products present some additional risk for E. coli contamination.”
Food safety advocates were quick to respond, saying the report confirms their long-held suspicions about failures in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s meat inspection system.
“We have heard the agency say this is a problem, yet they have never put out clear instructions to inspect this meat, and that is inexcusable,” Tony Corbo, a lobbyist and food safety expert with Food & Water Watch, said Monday.
According to the audit, the USDA’s meat inspection division – the Food Safety and Inspection Service – responded to the findings by saying it had limited resources. It also considered mechanically tenderized meat “to be at a low level of risk for E.”
But the auditors recommended testing, and the agency agreed that if its own continuing studies revealed a “significant risk,” it would propose such testing.
Normally E. coli would only be present on the surface of intact meats such as steaks, and would be killed during cooking. But the process of mechanically blading that meat uses automated needles or knives to tenderize tougher cuts of beef, forcing pathogens into the center.
Studies have shown that E. coli may then survive there and sicken consumers if the meat is not adequately cooked.