E.coli O157:H7 and live cattle

Reuters reported today a senior USDA official stated that E. coli O157:H7 is far more common in and on live cattle than previously believed. Specifically, it was reported that the bacteria may be found in half of all cattle. This is not accurate and none of the cattle studied were destined for slaughter.

The currently unpublished Agricultural Research Service data resulted from applying very sensitive techniques. In the studies, some groups of cattle had high numbers of positives for E.coli O157:H7. The study indicated wide variation in prevalence. Previous data had indicated approximately 5% of feedlot cattle at the time of slaughter were shedding the organism or had the organism on their hides. None of the cattle in the ARS study were destined for slaughter at the time of the study.

Regardless of the incidence of the organism in or on cattle, the incidence of the organism on carcasses and in beef destined for grinding has not changed according to discussions with many grinders and packers. The fact is Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) systems are in place.and the meat industry has invested millions in developing interventions that most packers are using. So the incidence of E. coli O157:H7 in ground beef continues to be very low. Ground beef manufacturers report the incidence of E.coli O157:H7 in the beef and trimmings they purchase is low, in the range of 0.05 to 0.015%.

Other points to remember include:

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