U.S. Department of Agriculture: Agricultural Research Service, Lincoln, Nebraska


Date of this Version


Document Type



Journal of Food Protection, Vol. 78, No. 2, 2015, Pages 273–280


U.S. Government Work


The contamination of raw ground beef by Escherichia coli O157:H7 is not only a public health issue but also an economic concern to meat processors. When E. coli O157:H7 is detected in a ground beef sample, the product lots made immediately before and after the lot represented by the positive sample are discarded or diverted to lethality treatment. However, there is little data to base decisions on how much product must be diverted. Therefore, five 2,000-lb (907-kg) combo bins of beef trimmings were processed into 10-lb (4.54-kg) chubs of raw ground beef, wherein the second combo of meat was contaminated with a green fluorescent protein (GFP)–expressing strain of E. coli. This was performed at two different commercial ground beef processing facilities, and at a third establishment where ground beef chubs from the second grinding establishment were mechanically split and repackaged into 3-lb (1.36-kg) loaves in trays. The GFP E. coli was tracked through the production of 10-lb (4.54-kg) chubs and the strain could not be detected after 26.5% more material (500 lb or 227 kg) and 87.8% more material (1,840 lb or 835 kg) followed the contaminated combo at each establishment, respectively. Three-pound (1.36-kg) loaves were no longer positive after just 8.6% more initially noncontaminated material (72 lb or 33 kg) was processed. The GFP strain could not be detected postprocessing in any residual meat or fat collected from the equipment used in the three trials. These results indicate that diversion to a safe end point (lethality or rendering) of the positive lot of ground beef, plus the lot before and lot after should remove contaminated ground beef, and as such provides support for the current industry practice. Further, the distribution and flow of E. coli on beef trimmings through various commercial equipment was different; thus, each establishment needs to consider this data when segregating lots of ground beef and establishing sampling protocols to monitor production.