For the first time since the federal government began regulating the safety of the American food supply, the Department of Agriculture announced yesterday that it would require all raw meat and poultry sold in bulk and at retail outlets to have labels with cooking and handling instructions.
The outline for the new regulations were included in a legal document settling a lawsuit brought against the department by a consumer group and others.
Such labeling of meat and poultry has been under consideration for several years, but the issue was brought to a head this year when the deaths of three people and the illnesses of more than 350 others were attributed to hamburgers served at a fast-food chain in Washington State.
The parents of a child who became ill in the outbreak of the bacteria -- specifically E. coli 0157:H7 -- joined the consumer group Beyond Beef.
Beyond Beef sued Agriculture Department in February, demanding that meat and poultry be labeled to warn of the dangers of bacteria that is found in the raw products. The next month, the department later said that it wanted such instructions on the products before the end of the year.
The agreement requires that the Agriculture Department propose rules for the labeling by Aug. 15, followed by a public comment period.