Beef Products Inc. Leads Food Safety Advances

Through "hold and test" quality assurance program, BPI samples its beef prior to sale, holds the product and tests for the presence of pathogens. Only after determining the test results are negative will the product be sold or used for raw ground beef.

Dakota Dunes, SD: Beef Products Inc. (BPI), a producer of lean beef, is expanding its ifood safety program by testing for an additional six pathogenic forms of E. coli.

This first-of-a-kind action is part of the company's "hold and test" quality assurance program through which BPI samples its lean beef prior to sale, holds the lean beef, and tests for the presence of pathogens. Only after determining the test results are negative will beef be sold or used for raw ground beef.

"BPI has always been an industry leader in our commitment to ensuring food safety and quality in our beef," says Craig Letch, BPI's director of quality assurance. "BPI led the hold and test initiative and has applied its own rigorous program for more than 15 years, and we are now expanding our testing even further to include testing for these other potentially harmful bacteria."

While most E. coli are not pathogenic, these Shiga-toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) pathogens, collectively referred to as non-O157 STECs, are forms of E. coli that are capable of producing negative health effects similar to those caused by E. coli O157:H7, which is the most widely known strain to raise serious health concerns in the United States.

"Our goal is to provide the safest and highest quality beef. Using newly available testing methods, we are able to add tests for these additional STECs beyond O157:H7, which will help us further ensure the safety and quality of our lean beef and that consumers are better protected from potential exposure to these harmful pathogens," Letch continues.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), through its Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) declared E. coli O157:H7 an adulterant in ground beef in 1994. Any raw ground beef sampled and tested that contains this pathogen cannot be sold for human consumption in that raw form. USDA and beef industry initiatives since that time have been effective in reducing the prevalence of this pathogen from the beef supply. Still, recent global health concerns caused by E. coli pathogens other than O157:H7 and in foods other than beef, highlight the value of BPI's decision to expand its testing to include these six additional pathogens, which have been recognized as the "big six" pathogens by the USDA. Protocols have been developed to test for these six strains and a sufficient supply of test kits are now available to sustain BPI's testing program.

"With the test methods still developing for these six strains, the recent situation in Europe convinced us that it was time to add tests for these other potentially harmful pathogens now," says Letch. "While this additional testing will add significantly to the cost of BPI's current hold and test program, our decision to voluntarily start this testing is consistent with our overall commitment to food safety and quality."