, Volume 20, Issue 1, pp 3-19

Manufacturing bacteriological contamination outbreaks in industrialized meat production systems: The case of E. coli O157:H7

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Abstract

This article outlines aconceptual framework for examining recentoutbreaks of E. coli O157:H7 infectionassociated with the consumption of beef in theUnited States. We argue that beef produced inthis country is generally safer frombacteriological contamination than in the past.Paradoxically, increasing intensification andconcentration in the meat subsector since theearly 1980s has (a) altered agro-food ecology,including characteristics of foodborne bacteriaand human physiology; (b) created conditionsfavorable for the rapid amplification of lowconcentrations of pathogens; and (c) reducedthe beef industry's flexibility to introducechanges necessary to preclude and/or controlthe rapid spread of pathogens in meat and meatproducts. As a result, beef industry currentlyis capable of producing large quantities ofbacteriologically safe meat whilesimultaneously becoming more vulnerable to foodcontaminations that can be fatal in some cases.The limitations and effectiveness of a newregulatory regime, the HACCP (Hazard Analysisand Critical Control Points) system as well asother efforts to decontaminate the beef supplyare discussed.