So far this year, 30 million pounds of ground beef have been recalled in the United States because of contamination with E. coli O157:H7. Most of this meat was recalled only AFTER it had been associated with outbreaks of gastroenteritis and hemolytic uremic syndrome.
"Test and Release" or "Test and Hold"
Until now, USDA has suggested that slaughterhouses and meat processors hold their products in-house until their micro test results are available. This is known as "Test and Hold". But many companies ship their meat before the results are in ("Test and Release"), and have to recall the product if the result shows that their meat contains E. coli O157:H7. Unfortunately, this means that the consumer sometimes becomes the guinea pig. Why not hold product until it has been cleared by the lab? The answer is $$$$$$$$$$. Warehousing a perishable product, even for a couple of days, is expensive.
On November 18th, USA Today reported that USDA is considering REQUIRING companies to move to a Test and Hold program. It's far from a complete answer to the problem of contaminated meat, but it would be a step in the right direction.