OIG says FSIS should reevaluate N-60 sampling program

by Editor fleischwirtschaft.com
Tuesday, March 08, 2011

C.In a new report, USDA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) recommended that the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) take steps to thoroughly reevaluate its N-60 sampling program, noting that this sample size and design may not be adequate for detecting E. coli O157:H7 in beef trim.

FSIS expressed concern that the very low – and declining – prevalence of the pathogen makes it extremely difficult to detect E. coli O157:H7 in ground beef. The OIG acknowledged the inherent challenge, noting that, the dilemma facing FSIS was that as plants’ controls and interventions became more effective at eliminating fecal material on carcasses, the presence (or prevalence rate) of E. coli O157:H7 contamination in beef trim became lower. Statistically, the lower the prevalence rate, the more difficult the pathogen was to find and the more samples needed to be taken to detect it.

FSIS told OIG that increasing the number of samples will require significant additional labor and laboratory costs. OIG recommended that FSIS take advantage of the fact that many plants are independently performing hundreds of their own E. coli O157:H7 tests daily and perhaps utilise these plants’ testing results to augment the agency’s own tests. FSIS currently has access to those test results under federal regulations.

OIG also recommended that the agency moves to an inspection system that will determine which processing plants are at a higher risk of E. coli O157:H7 contamination.