BOZEMAN, Mont. (AP)--The next bad food bug is out there somewhere and it's up to researchers to be ready to detect and eradicate it when it surfaces, a scientist told beef producers and industry representatives April 7.

"We've got to be out on the cutting edge of some of this stuff if we're going to have it ready by the time we need it," Bill Mies said. "The technology has to get here at a rate faster than the threat."

Mies, a former university researcher now working in private industry, said beef producers must care about food safety because consumer confidence in their product is critical.

"E. coli 0157:H7 has already mutated and is in our environment. It's just that the next deadly strain hasn't been identified yet," said Mies, vice president of a company that develops technology to deal with microbial contamination.

Mies said one of eMerge Interactive's devices can detect fecal contamination on a carcass and is now being used in meatpacking plants.

"When we took it to the packers, they said, 'We don't have manure on our meat,"' Mies said. "We said, 'Yes you do, you just can't see it.' And we showed it to them and they were amazed and they trimmed it off and their bacteria count went down," he told the Montana State University Food and Nutrition Conference.

Mies also said his company is one of several competing for the rapidly developing market for livestock identification systems.

The goal is to be able to track a diseased animal back to its birthplace and then forward to every place it ever went within 48 hours, so that other potentially infected animals can be quickly found, he said.

Beef producers can choose to look at animal ID as an expense and nuisance, or embrace it as a management tool, he said.

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