Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, the only trained microbiologist in Congress, has introduced strengthened meat safety legislation that targets high-risk pathogens and currently unregulated strains of E. coli found in the meat supply and which have been associated with serious food-borne illnesses. Gillibrand’s “Foodborne Illness Prevention Act of 2011” (S-1157-IS) was introduced in the US Senate on June 8.

E. coli 0157:H7 is the most common strain of STEC/VTEC found in the American beef supply. However, non-0157 STECs are increasingly found in beef imported from other countries, but current USDA regulations only require imported ground beef to be checked for E. coli 0157:H7.

Senator Gillibrand’s legislation mandates testing for the pathogens that cause the majority of food-borne illnesses and deaths in the U.S. in order of prevalence: Salmonella spp., Toxoplasma gondii, Campylobacter spp., E.coli 0157:H7, and E.coli non-O157 STEC.

The legislation builds on an effort that Senator Gillibrand led last year to add confirmed strains of E. coli to the list of adulterants (0157: H7, 026, 045, 0103, 011, 0121, 0145, 0104: H4), requires meat producers to test for batches containing any toxic strains of E. coli, and gives the USDA the authority to identify and regulate additional evolving toxic strains in the future. 

The text of the “Foodborne Illness Prevention act of 2011” is posted below along with the text of a letter to USDA Undersecretary for Food Safety, Dr. Elisabeth Hagen, discussing the need for this legislation.