The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service said last week it plans to enhance safety testing for ground beef ahead of grilling season.
According to a USDA blog post by Brian Ronholm, acting under secretary for food safety, the new testing will improve safeguards against salmonella. It will join a range of safeguards to reduce E. coli in ground beef, Ronholm said.
"Recognizing that we need more information about the prevalence of salmonella in ground beef to better prevent food-borne illness, FSIS is 'super-sizing' our pathogen testing program to include salmonella every time our laboratories test for E. coli in samples of ground beef and ground beef sources," Ronholm explained. "Because the samples taken for E. coli testing are much larger than those we have taken in the past for salmonella, there is higher likelihood that we will be able to detect the bacteria if it is present."
Ronholm said salmonella is commonly found in ground beef and is an especially difficult bacteria for food safety experts to address because "it is so prevalent in almost all foods."
Once FSIS has collected enough data about the prevalence of salmonella in ground beef, Ronholm said they will create a new standard to encourage ground beef processors to strengthen their salmonella controls.
"The data collection process will take some time, but it is critical that the new standard is supported by meaningful data," he said. "Of course, we will continue to analyze any positive samples for multi-drug resistance and specific serotypes to determine whether they are contributing to human illnesses."
FSIS says salmonella is the most urgent issue facing FSIS when it comes to protecting consumers.
Ronholm highlighted the agency's salmonella Action Plan, released in December, 2013, that aims to reduce the number of salmonella-related illnesses. He said FSIS' latest sampling and testing program is part of that effort.
Ronholm said consumers should take steps to protect themselves from illnesses by cooking all ground beef to 160 degrees F, with poultry cooked to 165 degrees F.