The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has said it is suspending testing of dry and semi-dry fermented sausages for E. coli O157:H7 after not finding a single positive result for nine years.
Despite testing more than 10,000 samples, the agency said it has not found any positive results for the E. coli strain from such products from 2000 to 2009. FSIS said that laboratory resources dedicated to testing for E. coli O157:H7 in dry and semi-dry fermented meats will now be diverted to testing for E. coli in raw meat, which the agency considers to pose a more immediate health risk.
“After reviewing these results, the agency has determined that the effectiveness of the testing program for E. coli O157:H7 in dry and semi-dry fermented sausage products for verifying process controls for these products should be reassessed,” FSIS said in a constituency update.
However, although none of the 10,000 samples tested by FSIS have been found to be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7, recalls related the possibility that fermented meat products could be tainted with E. coli have occurred as recently as March this year. Palmyra Bologna Company of Palmyra, Pennsylvania recalled 23,000 pounds of Lebanon bologna in March, a fermented semi-dry sausage that was suggested as a possible source of four E. coli O157:H7-related illnesses in three states.
Ingredients added after processing have also been implicated in foodborne illness outbreaks linked to eating fermented dry and semi-dry meat products, as in a salami recall from Rhode Island-based Daniele International in January 2010, which was traced to spices contaminated with salmonella used to coat the product.
In response to such recalls, the FSIS last month released draft guidelines to help small ready-to-eat meat manufacturers reduce the risk of harmful bacteria in their products.
Its new compliance document contains guidelines on how to avoid foodborne pathogen contamination when ingredients are introduced following processing – such as adding spices or sauces after curing or cooking. The problem with such ingredients is that potentially there is no further kill step (cooking, for example) performed by either the manufacturer or the consumer to destroy harmful bacteria.