More than half of 35 large meat-processing plants reviewed recently by the government had shortcomings in their plans for protecting meat from harmful bacteria.

“A preliminary assessment shows that 21 of the plants had problems with their plans to prevent E. coli contamination, says Garry McKee, USDA’s food safety administrator. “The problems in the plans were scientific design issues and not food safety issues.”

Steven Cohen, spokesman for the Food Safety Inspection Service, says most of the plants failed to keep records up to date.

FSIS officials began checking plants last fall to ensure they were following written plans to prevent E. coli from contaminating meat. Plants that didn't follow their strategies were sent letters telling them to correct the problems within 30 days, notes Cohen.

The government requires plants to create their own Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point strategies.

"If plants don't conduct their hazard analysis correctly, or there's something wrong with their HACCP plan – the way that they reassessed it and so forth – there will be actions taken," says Elsa Murano, the department's undersecretary for food safety.

The department is slated to complete its assessment of E. coli prevention plans at all plants by this summer,  says Cohen.

Associated Press