( Reuters ) - Meat and poultry products being imported from Canada will be subjected to increased testing and inspection after an outbreak of E. coli in several U.S. states traced to beef from a Canadian company, the U.S. Agriculture Department said on Saturday.
The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service said it would increase testing for salmonella, listeria monocytogenes and E. coli O157:H7. The agency said it would require the products be held until testing shows they do not contain any of those pathogens.
The bacteria can cause abdominal pains, diarrhea and dehydration.
Canadian meat and poultry products will also receive increased levels of reinspection by FSIS officials to confirm they are eligible to enter the U.S. market. Those requirements will begin next week.
The FSIS said it would also conduct an audit of Canada's food safety system. The audit will focus on plants that export beef to the United States.
"The audit and stepped-up actions at the border are being conducted because of concerns about testing practices at Ranchers Beef, Ltd that were discovered as part of the ongoing investigation," said U.S. Agriculture Undersecretary Richard Raymond.
Alberta-based Ranchers Beef, which has ceased operations, is believed to be the source of the multi-state outbreak of E. coli infections linked to the U.S.-based Topps Meat Co in September, the FSIS said. The agency delisted Ranchers Beef as an importer on October 20.
The recall of 21.7 million pounds (9.8 million kg) of ground beef was the fifth-largest meat or poultry recall in U.S. history and led to nearly 100 illnesses in the two countries. Topps Meat has since gone out of business.
The preliminary findings from the audit by the FSIS will determine whether the additional testing and inspection rules remain in place.
"These measures are being taken to further ensure the equivalency of the system already in place," said Raymond. "We continue to work together with our food safety partners both domestically and internationally to ensure imported meat and poultry products are produced ... at least equivalent to those in the United States."