Both the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration are taking steps to improve the safety of our food. The Department of Agriculture is set to conduct regular tests of "bench trim," the meat trimmings added to other meat to make ground beef, in order to prevent E. coli contamination of beef sold to consumers. The FDA is seeking more extensive "mandatory standards for growing, harvesting and processing fruits and vegetables." The House of Representatives already passed legislation strengthening the FDA’s food safety oversight powers. Similar legislation is scheduled for Senate consideration in the fall.
Most meat used in ground beef has been tested for E. coli, but inspectors had not been testing the bench trim. Recently, there have been several outbreaks of a virulent strain of E. coli, leading to recalls of tainted ground beef. This particular E. coli strain, O157:H7, can cause fatal illness, and it may survive cooking. According to the American Meat Institute, the industry supports additional government testing of meat.
There have also been several cases of illnesses from tainted produce, primarily tomatoes, leafy greens and melons. The FDA recently issued voluntary guidelines to improve the safety of these crops. Eventually these guidelines will lead to mandatory regulations for handling produce. Enforceable standards and requirements should be complete in two years.