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New Ground Beef Grinding Log Rules Take Effect

Last updated on July 21st, 2016 at 08:34 am

by Cindy Rice, RS, MSPH, CPFS
Eastern Food Safety

Supermarkets and neighborhood meat markets alike are looking at some new regulations that could impact their daily activities around grinding beef. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s impending recordkeeping regulations will affect any operation that is grinding beef for retail sale, and soon will require grinding logs for any batch of beef ground in-house, even for an individual customer on request. Why now, you might ask?

E. coli is a naturally occurring bacteria in the intestinal tracts of animals (and humans) and has the potential to contaminate the surfaces of meat cuts during slaughter or processing. When meats are ground, it incorporates these surface bacteria throughout the ground product, which makes it harder to kill through cooking. The bacterial contamination is compounded when different lots of beef components are ground together and combined into a single batch. USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) regulates meat processing plants, and there is a zero tolerance limit on E. coli bacteria in ground meats due to the bacteria’s history of causing infection and deaths when ground beef is not cooked properly to 155° F, or in case of cross-contamination.

Starting on June 20, 2016, federal regulations (9 CFR part 320) will require all retail marketers who are grinding beef cuts to complete grinding logs for every batch. The purpose is to document detailed information about the source meats and the grinding process, in order to facilitate traceability and the investigation process during a food recall or illness outbreak. The logs must contain the supplier’s name, lot numbers and production date of the source meats; names of materials that went into the ground batch; date and time of the grinding activity. Meat grinders also are required to document when the grinding equipment is cleaned and sanitized.

Records need to be kept within the vicinity of the grinding activities themselves—not the company’s central business office. This is to avoid potential loss of records and to save time in case authorities are conducting an investigation. These records must be kept for one year after the grinding date.

Markets are given a couple of “passes” on the grinding logs: USDA will not require the weight of each component of source material that goes into a particular batch, because it is recognized that even a trace volume of E. coli-contaminated meat could have the potential for wider contamination of the entire batch.  Neither the phone number nor contact information of the supplier of the source materials will be required on the grinding logs, since authorities would already have that information on record from the source company.

This might seem time consuming, and there is speculation that the costs of ground meat may increase for the end-users, but the benefits would be great in case there is a ground beef recall or outbreak. Identifying lot numbers of components that go into ground meats accurately and efficiently is critical in tracing implicated products back to the source. The benefits to industry would most likely be lowered costs associated with food recalls and outbreaks, and the ability to recall E. coli-contaminated product more effectively from the marketplace. Regulatory authorities will appreciate the swifter traceback and resolution to illness investigations and food recalls that will likely result. And the illness prevention benefits to consumers may be priceless.

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