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National Academies Report Finds No Scientific Basis for More Stringent Testing of Ground Beef Served in School Lunch Programs

Thursday, December 9, 2010

(American Meat Institute)

There is no scientific basis that more stringent testing of meat purchased through the government’s ground beef program and distributed to various federal food and nutrition programs including the National School Lunch Program would lead to safer meat, according to a new study by the National Academies. The National Academies is comprised of the Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine and National Research Council.

“The committee’s analysis of the number of illnesses since 1998 linked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) ground beef provided to schools suggests that outbreaks were rare events before AMS requirements became more stringent in February, implying that controls already in place were appropriate for protecting public health,” the report stated.

The report noted that “no recorded outbreaks of E. coli or Salmonella associated with AMS ground beef have occurred in more than a decade.”

In addition, the report stated that some of the requirements were founded on expert opinion and industry practices where the scientific basis was unclear.  The committee recommended that AMS base their requirements on standards supported by the International Commission on Microbiological Safety of Foods, the Codex Alimentarius Commission and the Research Council report An Evaluation of the Role of Microbiological Criteria for Foods and Food Ingredients.  It also suggested that AMS analyze data from the suppliers’ bacterial testing to evaluate the safety requirements over time and use statistical methods to set testing sample and lot sizes. 

Prevention of future outbreaks will depend on eliminating contamination during production and ensuring meat is properly handled, stored, and cooked before it is served, the committee emphasized.

“The report encourages AMS to strengthen its established specifications and requirements for ground beef by utilizing a transparent and clearly defined science-based process,” said Gary Acuff, chair of the committee and professor and director of the Center for Food Safety at Texas A&M University, College Station.

To view a copy of the report in brief, click here: http://bit.ly/eaSesC

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