To be of public benefit a quality standard for meat at retail must do as it purports to do — i.e. to reduce the public hazard and/or prevent consumer deception. In addition, it must be technically workable for both the industry and the administrative branches of regulatory agencies. With processed meats and ground beef, it has not been demonstrated that they present a potential hazard. In addition, if a health hazard were demonstrated, it would not be reduced by the use of microbiological quality standards such as Aerobic Plate Count or number of Escherichia coli. Use of the bacterial criterion Aerobic Plate Count of 107/g, in place of organoleptic standards could reduce the retail shelf-life of processed meats by 20–66%. An Aerobic Plate Count, 107/g, could remove in excess of 33% of ground beef sold at retail level. In both instances a substantial quantity of wholesome meat would be prematurely removed from the retail market. Chemical standards such as protein, fat, moisture, cereal, are relatively static and do not substantially change over the retail shelf-life of meat. However the bacterial population in meat demonstrates a dynamic growth pattern. Hence the Aerobic Plate Count may indicate product age, but not necessarily product deterioration or potential health hazard.
E. coli, although an intestinal bacterium, is capable of growing outside the host intestine, thrive on a variety of substrates and thrive for long periods. Thus the presence of E. coli cannot be correlated with the extent of initial fecal contamination, nor with the presence of pathogens. A program of increased awareness of personal hygiene, temperature control, stock rotation, elimination of areas for potential cross-contamination and a regular sanitation program throughout the meat cycle will guarantee the microbiological quality of meats at retail.