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K-State Today

July 30, 2014

K-State expert discusses proposed rule that could enhance tracking of ground beef sources

Submitted by Katie L. Allen

A recently proposed rule by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service, or FSIS, would require grocery stores and supermarkets to keep more documentation on ground beef sources, which could assist in more timely traceability of a particular beef source that may have caused a foodborne illness.

The proposed rule would require retailers to keep records of all the sources of ground beef that they grind in-store, said Travis O'Quinn, assistant professor of animal sciences and industry at Kansas State University.

Traditionally, he said, retailers combine beef purchased specifically for grinding with beef products that may have hit the end of their shelf life in a whole muscle cut form, such as roasts and steaks, to create the ground beef products consumers see on shelves. This limits traceability to a specific source of potentially contaminated meat if a foodborne illness outbreak were to occur.

"Currently, there aren't regulations that require those retailers to track what products, the amounts and the sources of those products that go into their store's ground product. The proposed rule would change that," O'Quinn said.

With the rule in place, consumers could potentially know about a ground beef product contaminated with E. coli, for example, more rapidly and maybe before the product is consumed in the home, he said.

For retailers, the rule would require extra record keeping on products all the way through the grinding process, but O'Quinn said this extra work could save the retailers time down the road if they needed to help public health officials track down a contaminated product.

The rule does not affect the beef ground packaged prior to the retail level, as these pre-packaged, case-ready products are already sourced, he said. It is intended specifically for meat ground in-store.

"Because of the added record keeping, we may see more case-ready products coming directly from the packers and producers to the retail store, already in a shelf-ready state as opposed to grinding at the retail level," O'Quinn said.

"This is just a proposal right now, so there is a 60-day time period where it will be open for comments, suggestions, thoughts and concerns," he said. "The USDA will review those comments before it goes into effect."

For more information about the proposed rule and to view or submit comments, visit the USDA FSIS website.