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 KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A beef industry campaign to assure the public of the safety of meat comes from a hard-learned lesson of the 1980s, a University of Tennessee food safety specialist said Monday.

 Dr. Curtis Melton said the industry has moved quickly to ease public concerns about E. coli contamination of beef. That is a contrast to the industry reaction to public health concerns about fat and cholesterol in the 1980s, he said.

 “The industry ignored the health threat from fat and cholesterol in beef. They thought the public would ignore it also,” Melton said. “But as the nation became more health conscious people started eating more chicken. The beef industry began losing business.”

 Melton, professor of food science and technology at UT-Knoxville, said the industry rebounded with good public relations and education campaigns that included selling leaner cuts and advertising health benefits of beef.

 “After the poultry industry passed them, the beef industry woke up,” Melton said. “As a result, all of the meat industry today is more organized and sensitive to food safety issues.”

 In response to recent concerns about E. coli, the Beef Industry Food Safety Council is promoting irradiation, recently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a safe, effective way to kill harmful bacteria. The council also is forming a “crisis situation” plan to handle future cases of food contamination.

 “The beef industry is not ignoring the public this time around,” Melton said. “It is concerned about public perception of beef safety, and is trying to improve its image and get out the message that Americans should not fear eating meat.”

 — Contact: Dr. Curtis Melton (423-974-7265)