USDA to test for six more serious strains of E.coli

Posted at 4:25 AM, Jun 01, 2012
and last updated 2012-06-04 21:59:50-04

By Val Wadas-Willingham

(CNN) - In an effort to reduce the risk of eating contaminated meat, the USDA will expand the search for dangerous bacteria.

Starting Monday, June, 4,  the U.S Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection services (FSIS) will begin testing ground beef for six additional strains of E.coli that are responsible for a number of serious illnesses in the United States. If the meat is found to be contaminated, it will not be allowed to be sold and could be subject to a recall.

There are over 700 different strains of the bacteria E.coli. Although most of these types are harmless, there are those that can cause serious problems, by attacking the intestinal tract. Contracting certain forms of E.coli can lead to such problems as diarrhea, nausea, dehydration and in some severe cases, death.

"These strains of E. coli are an emerging threat to human health and the steps we are taking today are entirely focused on preventing Americans from suffering food borne illnesses," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "We cannot ignore the evidence that these pathogens are a threat in our nation's food supply."

One in six Americans gets sick with a foodborne illness every year.

The USDA already tests for E. coli O157:H7. The six new strains that will be tested for are Shiga-toxin producing E. coli (STEC) serogroups O26, O45, O103, O111, O121 and O145. All of these strains can cause severe illness. Young children and the elderly are at highest risk.

This testing is another initiative developed by the President's Food Safety Working Group, which is designed to prevent food borne illnesses by enforcing more testing and improving the way food products are handled.