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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Routine testing for E. coli bacteria, rather than for salmonella, is the best way to ensure a safe meat supply, a University of Tennessee food scientist said Thursday.

Dr. Curtis Melton said the change in meat-testing methods being considered by the U.S. Agriculture Department will not weaken its plan to improve the nation’s meat-inspection system.

Both testing methods can be effective indicators, Melton said.

“A change from salmonella to E. coli as a target indicator in no way reduces the effectiveness of the government plan to increase meat safety,” Melton said.

“E. coli is perhaps a better indicator because it is more evenly found on meats. Salmonella is more specific to poultry and would not be as good an indicator for other meats.”

The USDA plan to improve meat safety originally included industry tests for salmonella, the leading cause of food poison, as an indicator of overall safety, cleanliness and bacterial contamination.

A new proposal suggests tests for E. coli, a harmless but common bacteria, better indicate the amount of contamination.

Opponents of the change say incidence of salmonella can rise even if E. coli drops, and they believe the change would undermine the government’s planned overhaul of the inspection system.

Contact: Dr. Curtis Melton (423-974-7334)