A lot has happened since the largest ground beef recall in U.S. history, including a significant decline in E. coli contamination and illnesses. Since 1996, E. coli cases have trended downward, but in 2004 and 2006, E. coli cases are back up.

In April, the United States Department of Agriculture began testing beef trimmings – the meat that goes into ground beef – for E. coli contamination.  The testing is done before trimmings leave the slaughterhouse to be processed at a grinding operation.

Packing plants also are encouraged to hold onto ground beef until E. coli tests are returned and are confirmed as positive, Raymond said, a process that could take a day. The USDA offers to cut back on some of its other inspections if plants agree to wait for results.

E. coli outbreaks traced back to ground beef continue to happen, but the significant decline in illnesses is a tribute to the industry’s efforts to clean up.  The recent up-tick in E. coli cases traced to contaminated produce are cause for concern.  Like the beef industry, the produce industry must implement an effective industry-wide approach at curbing E. coli contamination to keep the number of cases – and outbreaks – down.