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May 2, 2012 7:49 PM by CNN

Feds hope to speed tracking of tainted meat, poultry

WASHINGTON - Hoping to eliminate a problem before it spreads rather than fighting an outbreak once it's discovered, the USDA announced Wednesday a new tracing method it hopes will protect consumers from eating contaminated meat and poultry.

The new strategy changes how meat and poultry processors and the U.S. Department of Agriculture trace E. coli contaminated food in the U.S. food chain.

According to the USDA, if food safety inspectors find E. coli during routine sampling, they will now move quickly to identify the supplier and target removing the tainted product from store shelves.

Additionally, new regulations require meat and poultry processors, farmers and retail establishments to have recall plans in place, notify federal officials within 24 hours if a contaminated product is found and requires better documentation of how they controlled the hazardous meat.

According to data on the Centers for Disease Control's website, multistate outbreaks of foodborne illnesses are reported about four to six times a year on average in the United States.

Currently, officials are fighting an outbreak of salmonella from contaminated tuna that has been reported in 24 states and Washington. According to the CDC, 258 people have been infected nationwide.

The FDA says better tracing will help government officials collaboratively find contamination sources before outbreaks start.

According to the CDC, around 48 million people, or one in six Americans get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die each year from foodborne diseases.

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