The Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) need to re-evaluate its E.coli testing relating to the downstream processing of boxed beef products, according to the results of an audit from the Office of Inspector General (OIG).
The OIG came up with five main findings including a need for FSIS to ensure that all components of ground beef are included in the agency’s E. coli testing program and a need to improve how it oversees the grinding of bench trim at retail exempt establishments.
FSIS tests product designated as ground beef but they do not sample all boxed beef product. Some downstream processors grind boxes of unsampled cuts of beef without sampling for E.coli prior to grinding.
OIG also found that FSIS was not testing tenderized meat products for E.coli despite recent recalls.
Under the findings were 12 recommendations which FSIS had the opportunity to outline its response to and the action it will take.
Boxed beef means boxed whole beef cuts of primals or subprimals that are packaged at the slaughter plant into large boxes, which downstream processors can further divide into individual steaks, roasts, or other cuts, or grind into hamburger, according to an OIG definition.
Incorrect profile information for firms under the Public Health Information System (PHIS) caused FSIS not to sample one establishment’s “other ground beef components” for over four years but the ground product was sampled before it left the plant.
The OIG worked at 11 processing facilities in five states to gain an understanding of the testing of incoming boxed beef, bench trim, and final ground beef products.
They also analyzed PHIS profile data from 1,750 establishments and selected 22 for additional review.
OIG said not all the plants reviewed had adequate records for tracing source material back to the original slaughtering establishment – something it said was “crucial during a recall”.
“When we spoke to the FSIS inspectors about the inadequacy of the grinding logs, they stated that they knew the logs would not suffice to trace back source material in case of a recall,” said OIG.
“One manager stated that he would quit grinding, rather than maintain adequate grinding logs; another agreed that the establishment could improve its practices.”
FSIS officials said that, given limited testing resources, they had not emphasized the testing of tenderized products, as they considered them to be of lower risk than bench trim but are currently developing a proposed rule which would require new labelling for mechanically tenderized product.
In 2011, FSIS analyzed 12,422 ground beef samples, 1,267 trim samples, 677 bench trim samples, 1,024 retail samples, and 228 other raw ground beef components.