Washington, D.C.—In an effort to stem the wastefulness and risks to consumer health associated with meat product recalls, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has initiated a new rule that will prevent meat processors from shipping to stores until safety tests are returned. This “test and hold” practice, according to agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack, could eliminate up to 25,000 cases of food-borne illness annually, and could have prevented 44 of the recalls which occurred from 2007 through 2009.

Most of the meat industry already adheres to this rule in practice, and experts say the change will mostly affect smaller plants, who may ship meat before receiving test results due to lack of storage space or to meet consumer demand. By having all processors wait to receive the results of tests for harmful bacteria like E.coli, USDA hopes many large scale recalls can be avoided entirely. After the announcement of the rule in April, USDA said it would welcome public comments for three months before implementation.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, June 2011 (online 4/19/11)