What Should an Establishment Consider in Controlling Pathogenic STECs?

As the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) begins to conduct Food Safety Assessments (FSA) at beef slaughter establishments to verify controls for Pathogenic Shiga Toxin-Producing E. coli (STEC), establishments should ensure that they have systems in place that are effective for pathogenic STEC. Preventing contamination, effective use of interventions, and verification of the overall system will be the keys to a successful FSA. In that regard, establishments should ensure the following issues are addressed prior to an FSA.

Is the establishment taking measures to ensure process control throughout the entire slaughter process?

Establishments should take necessary precautions throughout the slaughter process to ensure the carcass does not become contaminated with enteric organisms. Sanitary dressing is the key to preventing carcass contamination.

Is the establishment taking measures to correct incidental contamination after it occurs?

Multi-hurdle interventions have been validated to be effective on enteric organisms that might contaminate a carcass. There are many effective interventions including hot water, steam and organic acids. Scientific research has demonstrated that these interventions work effectively for both E. coli O157 as well as the non-O157s.

Is the establishment applying the intervention at the appropriate parameters, such as time, temperature, pressure, and other parameters that are necessary for the intervention to be effective?

To be effective, an intervention must be operated as designed. The establishment should ensure it has identified the key parameters, such as the temperature of the intervention on product or concentration of the solution. Not operating as intended will not provide a food safety benefit.

Is the establishment using a tool to ensure the slaughter process is effective?

If an establishment is preventing contamination, and using interventions effectively, the incidence of microbial contamination should be very low. However, the establishment should have a means to verify this. Over time, establishments have demonstrated that robust testing for E. coli O157:H7 serves as a tool to verify effectiveness of the slaughter process. In addition, establishments should conduct validation and periodic verification testing for non-O157 to ensure the system is controlling all relevant STEC.

Are you ready for an FSIS audit?

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