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Regulatory Watch

November 4, 2003
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E. coli testing takes positive turn

Federal food safety experts report a drop in the number of ground beef samples testing positive for E. coli O157:H7 so far this year. The Food Safety and Inspection Service, part of USDA, said the decrease is significant. The data shows .32% of samples collected through August 31 tested positive for the bacteria, compared to .78% in 2002 and .84% in 2001. Since 2001, FSIS has collected more than 7,000 samples annually, up from 6,300 in 2000. The agency said it has stepped up its inspection for E. coli over the last 12 months in reaction to what it says is evidence of a growing threat. FSIS Administrator Garry McKee said the latest data shows his agency's increased efforts have begun to pay off. "We have examined the HACCP plans at more than 1,000 beef establishments and ended a 1998 program that exempted some establishments from random FSIS testing. We are also examining all plant-generated data to better detect future problems. We are far from satisfied, but the arrow is clearly pointing in the right direction," he said.

False label warning for dairy processors

FDA has issued warning letters to four manufacturers of dairy products, telling them their products are misbranded because the labels contain false statements of "no hormones" or "hormone free."

The warning letters explain that "no hormones" and "hormone free" are false claims because all milk contains naturally occurring hormones, and milk can not be processed in a manner that renders it free of hormones. FDA also cautioned the firms that the agency could pursue further action such as seizure and/or injunction, if they fail to take prompt action to correct their labels. FDA said that food manufacturers who do not use milk from cows treated with recombinant bovine somatotropin (rbST) may voluntarily inform consumers of this fact on their product labels or labeling, provided that the statements are truthful and not misleading.

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