The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is mulling a raft of new safety measures in the wake of the second largest ever recall in history. These could include the compulsory irradiation of all meat for certain plants.

According to consumer groups involved in the investigation following the massive beef recall that hit ConAgra Foods last month after meat was contaminated with E. coli, the USDA is mulling a whole range of safety measures. Consumer groups and the meat industry have been asked to feed into the USDA suggestions on how food safety can be improved.

The USDA has been criticised for failing to enforce current regulations, and omitting to inspect meat plants regularly enough. "Its shocking how many holes in the safety net there are," Tony Carbo, senior policy analyst for the Washington-based Government Accountability Project, was cited as saying by Food Production Daily.

Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman told reports that her department was trying to see where improvements could be made in the system.

Consumer group said that regulations may be introduced that would force meat processors to use new technology to kill harmful bacteria. Carol Tucker Foreman, food policy director for the Consumer Federation of America, said one option the USDA was looking into was mandatory irradiation of meat for certain plants.

Irradiation, which exposes foods to low doses of electrons or gamma rays in order to destroy microorganisms, is accepted scientifically as a processing technique, but some consumer groups have raised fears about foods subjected to any radiation. It is regarded with particular scepticism in the European Union.