Saturday, October 13, 2012

E. coli can be controlled

Dr. H. Scott Hurd of Iowa State University says everyone involved in delivering beef to consumers could be taking action to reduce the risk of food poisoning from E. coli 0157:H7, the bug that is responsible for the huge recall of XL Foods Inc. beef.

Speaking for scientists involved in food safety, Hurd takes issue with a claim made by a “Mr. Murphy” that E. coli 0157:H7 “cannot be controlled at the source, or at the packing plant, or during further processing, or after packaging and distribution.”

Hurd says it is perhaps true that E. coli can’t be totally eliminated, but the bacteria can be sharply curtailed.

Hurd and two colleagues at iowa State University say that controls that packing plants have implemented on orders from the United States Food Safety and Inspection Service have reduced the rate of contamination by harmful bacteria by more than 90 per cent.

XL Foods Inc. ought to be operating under similarly-strict orders.

Hurd says scientific research indicates that E. coli can now be controlled at the farm level.

The owners of XL Foods Inc. are also owners of ranches, livestock auction market facilities and provide financing to many feedlot operators, so they are in a more powerful position than almost any Canadians to reduce the risks of E. coli 0157:H7.

“Each of us (the three Iowa-State researchers) has extensive experience evaluating and validating the ability of a variety of technologies, such as vaccination, as effective tools for controlling E. coli O157," says Hurd of farm-level measures to reduce harmful bacteria.

He says evaluations of vaccines indicate that the shedding of E. coli can be reduced by 98 per cent, that the number of cattle shedding E. coli 0157:H7 can be cut in half and that the number of high-level shedders can be reduced by 75 per cent.

The first E. coli vaccine for cattle was researched and developed by Canadians and is marketed by Bioniche. Pfizer is also marketing an E. coli vaccine.

“Although vaccination or other available interventions may not totally eliminate E. coli O157, applying multiple interventions at key points in the beef chain can contribute to further improvements in the control of E. coli O157,” Hurd writes for the Drovers Cattle Network website.

“The prevalence of E. coli O157 in retail ground beef has been reduced to an all-time low,” he says. That was before the massive XL recall.

“We realize that E. coli O157 continues to be a difficult issue for the beef industry.

“There are still important efforts to make sure that consumers understand correct handling and proper cooking are crucial for reducing the risk of E. coli O157.

“However, we know the science – E. coli O157 can be controlled at multiple points of the beef chain, including in live cattle, and we believe it is important to clarify this for the Drovers/CattleNetwork audience,” Hurd wrote.