USDA To Start Testing for Six More Strains of E. coli

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Starting Monday, the USDA will begin testing raw beef manufacturing trim for six additional strains of E. coli bacteria, the agency announced yesterday.

Raw beef manufacturing trim is the main component in most commercial ground beef. E. coli is the bacteria that makes you really, really sick. Repercussions for manufacturers caught distributing contaminated ground beef will be harsh: recall and destruction.

Previously, the USDA was only on the lookout for one strain of E. coli, serogroup O157:H7, which it's been patrolling since 1994. However, the agency has since discovered that there are other strains responsible for just as many illnesses, mostly in the group known as Shiga-toxin producing E. coli, or STEC.

"CDC estimates that 112,752 foodborne illnesses occur from non-O157 STECs in the U.S. annually," a USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service spokeswoman tells Gut Check. "While more than 50 non-O157 STEC serogroups have been associated with human illness, 70 to 80 percent of confirmed non-O157 STEC illnesses are caused by these six STEC serogroups."

In other words, these six strains of E. coli were responsible for approximately 100,000 illnesses each year before the USDA launched its counterattack.

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