If investigators can quickly identify by traceback what products are making people sick, they can also trace contaminated products forward through the distribution system and issue appropriate recalls and warnings.
Minneapolis, Minn. (PRWEB) March 1, 2010
As the United States heads into warmer months when outbreaks of E. coli O157:H7 become more prevalent, national food safety lawyer Fred Pritzker is calling on food retailers large and small to keep precise beef handling records.
Knowing quickly and exactly the origin of every pound of beef sold at checkout could help save lives when E. coli outbreaks happen because detailed records speed vital traceback investigations conducted by public health officials.
"It's hard to believe in 2010 that many retailers don't keep records or that the records they keep are inadequate for tracing,'' said Pritzker, whose firm is a leader in representing victims of food poisoning. "Tracebacks help us identify the products that are making people sick in order to bring outbreaks under control as quickly as possible.''
Pritzker, founder and president of Pritzker Olsen attorneys, is actively involved in efforts to strengthen the food safety system in order to prevent outbreaks of E. coli, Salmonella infection, Listeria,Campylobacter and other pathogens. He believes it is possible to build a food safety system in which foodborne illness outbreaks are rare and short in duration.
The current safety gap caused by improper ground beef record keeping at the retail level is acknowledged by USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, which is currently trying to address the problem in a series of public meetings. The agency has been frustrated by the lack of records kept by retailers who grind their own ground beef. It's essential for them to document where the bulk trimmings and cuts come from in the event a package of ground beef purchased by a consumer is later found to be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.
"If investigators can quickly identify by traceback what products are making people sick, they can also trace contaminated products forward through the distribution system and issue appropriate recalls and warnings,'' Pritzker said.
Orderly documentation of what beef is used in a retail chain's grindings also will put more pressure on suppliers to eliminate contamination. A major benefit of tracing is to allow the USDA to assess the establishment that produced the contaminated product to detect if there's a systemic problem at the plant.
The CDC estimates that as many as 300,000 people in the U.S. are hospitalized each year from foodborne illnesses and millions become ill and don't even realize that it is connected to tainted food. Estimates of E. coli infection are imprecise, but microbiologists guess that more than 70,000 Americans fall ill every year from Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, the largest source of which is contaminated ground beef. Of those infected, more than 5 percent develop life-threatening HUS E. coli, or hemolytic uremic syndrome, the leading cause of kidney failure in children and the leading cause of E. coli deaths.
The harmful microbes live in the intestines of cattle and are expelled in feces. The volume of germs surges in warmer weather and the bacteria can contaminate meat during the slaughter process when intestines are nicked or when feces flake off hides. It takes very few bacteria to make a person sick and testing doesn't catch all lots of beef that are contaminated.
Pritzker said that grocery retailers can help reduce the spread of E. coli O157:H7 by pinpointing the origin of the ground beef they sell with well-kept records.
Pritzker Olsen is a nationally recognized food safety law firm that has represented victims in practically every major outbreak of food poisoning in the U.S. The firm is one of the few in the nation practicing extensively in the area of foodborne illness and it has collected millions for victims of E. coli HUS and other disease caused by pathogens in food. For more information, contact Fred Pritzker at 1-888-377-8900 (toll free). The firm has offices at Plaza VII, Suite 2950, 45 South Seventh Street, Minneapolis, MN 55402.