Meat gets around; Australian beef implicated in South Carolina E. coli positive sample

Australians don’t take kindly to suggestions their beef may have E. coli.

A Japanese chain serving raw beef tried the tactic in an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak last year that sickened 20 people, and now a positive sample in South Carolina – no people sick – has triggered diverse responses.

On May18, 2012, two South Carolina companies, Lancaster Frozen Foods and G&W Inc. announced they were recalling nearly 7,000 pounds of ground beef after a state testing program found an E. coli O157 positive sample (there was no mention of a possible connection with the E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in early May at a restaurant in South Carolina that sickened 11 people, but outbreaks do focus the attention of public health folks).

The Charlotte Observer reported the SC meat originated from an Australian packing plant, and that the companies no longer buy beef from the Australian company.

A few days later the story popped up throughout Australia, with meat types insisting the meat was safe and noting that more than 70 Australian plants are certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to export meat and poultry.

Australian TV got into the scrum, declaring that up to 13 Australian shipments of contaminated meat have been rejected by USDA in the past year, including nine loads of mutton contaminated with feces and one load because of veterinary drug residues.

Meat and Livestock Australia Ltd. said in January that one of the "major hurdles for Australian exports to the U.S. in 2012" would be increased non-O157 E. coli testing requirements. MLA estimated Australia’s beef exports to the U.S. in 2011 were valued at A$744 million.

The U.S. is Australia’s second largest export market for beef and its largest export market for lamb.

Seek and ye shall find: increased testing means increased positives, and it’s going to take diplomatic skills and data to better understand what a positive means.

In the short-term, blame the foreigners will remain politically appealing: Australia does it, U.S. does it, Canada does it, every country in Europe does it.