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Response to USDA Plans continued...

Washington, D.C.-based consumer advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest also supports the USDA's shift in priorities.

"When it comes to testing for E. coli, it makes sense to start traceback procedures upon a presumptively positive test result, and not lose valuable time waiting for a confirmation," CSPI's Food Safety Director Caroline Smith DeWaal says in a statement.

However, the statement calls on USDA to go further. They would like to see the agency require that retailers who grind their own beef, such as supermarkets, keep records about such products. Doing so will enable investigators to trace the source of an outbreak that occurs when the meat is ground.

Consumers Should Also Take Protective Measures

Supermarket shoppers, meanwhile, can take steps to protect themselves from food-borne illnesses, says Tierno. While he says that most people do a good job of thoroughly cooking meat, they are not as careful when they are shopping.

"When you pick up a package of meat, your hands can get contaminated," says Tierno, referring to the often leaky plastic-wrapped packages of ground meat and chicken bought in markets. "It doesn't take much."

He advises consumers to pick out meat last, to keep the packages away from other foods, and, until you have had a chance to wash them, to avoid putting your hands in your mouth or rubbing your eyes. He also recommends carrying an alcohol-based gel or wipes containing a small amount of bleach to clean yourself up after handling a package.

"You can't live in a germ-free bubble," he says, "but you should be aware of contaminants and how to break their transmission."

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