USDA Unveils New Process of Tracking E. Coli Outbreaks

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has recently unveiled a new process of tracking E. coli outbreaks. The new procedure would allow officials to begin searching for the source of an E. coli infection as soon as contaminated meat tested positive for the bacteria. USDA officials hope that the new program could shorten the time it takes to track an E. coli infection by 24 to 48 hours.

USDA Testing of Ground Beef

The USDA tests roughly 13,000 to 15,000 samples of ground beef and beef trimmings each year. Roughly 65 to 75 of these samples test positive for the E. coli bacteria. Under current procedures, however, officials can’t begin tracking E. coli outbreaks until these initial positive results have been confirmed by additional tests.

The new process seeks to take out that unnecessary second step. 95% of the samples that test positive initially are confirmed positive in additional tests. Though officials may end up chasing phantoms on the other 5% of the samples, the new procedure could save lives.

E. coli Infections

While most people recover from E. coli infection in 5-7 days, the bacteria can result in kidney failure and death. One of the worst E. coli scares occurred in 1993 when four children died and hundreds of people became ill after eating Jack in the Box hamburgers. Since then, E. coli has only reared up in isolated incidents. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that in 2010, E. coli strains sickened 451 people, hospitalized 69 and killed one. However, many cases of E. coli infection go unreported and the numbers of those who contracted the bacteria could be much higher.

E. coli infection is caused by the E. coli bacterium which lives in the digestive tracts of humans and animals. Humans can become infected with E. coli when they come into contact with the feces of animals and other humans with the bacteria. Most often, this contact occurs when humans eat food or drink water that has been contaminated by feces. Typical symptoms of E. coli include bloody diarrhea, stomach cramps and nausea. More serious infections can result in a fever, weakness and bruising.

How to Prevent E. Coli Infections?

The best way to prevent an E. coli infection is to cook all types of beef to at least 160°F. Moreover, after touching raw meat, it’s always a good idea to wash your hands with soap and water. All kitchen tools and surfaces that have touched raw meat should also be washed off and sanitized. Any drinking water should be treated or chlorinated. Lastly, it’s best to only use pasteurized milk, dairy and juice products.

We can rest assured that our health officials are doing all they can to keep E. coli under control. If the USDA’s new procedure turns out to be successful, we may see the method expanded to tracking other diseases such as salmonella strains which are resistant to antibiotics. The faster we can get to the bottom of disease outbreaks, the better we can be controlling them.

Author Bio:

Sherri writes on behalf of the dental professionals at A Beautiful Smile at Lakepointe.


Sherri writes for a number of dermatological and dental clients. In her free time he enjoys bicycling, reading and swimming in the springs near her house.

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