Controlling E. coli
E. coli O157:H7 is one of hundreds of strains of the bacterium Escherichia coli. Most strains of this bacterium are harmless and live in the intestines of healthy humans and animals. However, eating food that has not been cooked sufficiently to kill this particular strain, E. coli O157:H7, or has been cross-contaminated by other foods carrying bacteria, can cause severe illness in humans.
The beef industry uses a “multiple hurdle” approach to controlling E. coli and ensuring the safest beef for consumers. The additive effect of safety measures integrated throughout the production process creates a robust food safety system.
Here’s what happens at each stage of beef production to ensure food safety:
ON FARMS AND RANCHES – Cattle farmers and ranchers have funded basic research to better understand E. coli O157:H7 and other pathogens. This research builds the foundation needed to develop new safety intervention strategies. One of the most promising areas of research is at the earliest stages of beef production. For example, technologies like vaccines and feed supplements have been shown to reduce or eliminate E. coli O157:H7 in cattle.
AT BEEF HARVEST AND PROCESSING – Most U.S. beef is harvested and processed in a relatively small number of plants, so processing facilities are a key target for maximizing the impact of safety interventions. A variety of safety technologies to combat E. coli O157:H7 have been researched and implemented in facilities across the country. Measures include steam pasteurization, hot water and organic acid washes, testing and validation procedures and Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) programs.
These safety steps take place under the continuous presence of Food Safety and Inspection Service personnel at all federally-inspected processing facilities. Beef processing facilities meet and exceed tough U.S. government rules, and thousands of FSIS inspectors verify that every day.
AT RESTAURANTS AND RETAILERS – Both restaurants and retailers must handle, store and prepare food according to local, state and federal laws. Food establishments also are inspected by local and/or state health authorities. Additionally, extensive food safety training programs are offered both online and in person for retail and restaurant employees.
IN YOUR KITCHEN – You can take the final safety step by following the correct handling, cooking and storing instructions for food. Always cook ground beef to an internal temperature of 160 F – as measured with an instant-read meat thermometer – to help ensure a safe and savory beef experience.
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Safety related fact sheets available include: