Meat and Poultry Industry Measuring Food Safety

US - The meat and poultry industry has focused efforts to reduce pathogen risk by embracing the hurdle concept of microbiological control.
calendar icon 23 July 2010
clock icon 3 minute read

This was the message from American Meat Institute (AMI) Scientific Advisor Dr Andrew Milkowski in testimony before the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Stakeholder Public Meeting in Chicago, Illinois.

AMI noted that while it believes the Department of Health and Human Services’ 2010 goal for a 50 per cent reduction in the illness from key foodborne pathogens based on 1997 illness levels has been an excellent starting point, discrepancies exist in reported foodborne illness statistics.

For example, the data shows poor correlation between pathogen performance standards and human illnesses. The meat and poultry industry has reduced Salmonella by 64 per cent in chickens, 74 per cent in pork and 75 per cent in ground beef since the performance standards were set, yet human salmonellosis remains virtually unchanged. Performance standards as a metric to measure food safety have not achieved their intended public health outcome. AMI said this is an issue that must be resolved.

In response to the specific questions that have been asked by the CDC, FDA and FSIS, AMI noted:

  • The meat and poultry industry has a variety of metrics in place to assess whether suppliers meet purchase specifications that address food safety. •
  • The meat and poultry industry has a wide and diverse set of metrics in place to assess the food safety of the finished products they produce. •
  • Depending on the pathogen of concern, the meat and poultry industry has various operational metrics to evaluate the effectiveness of food safety systems. •
  • The most useful meat and poultry industry metric for Listeria has been the decline in the needed “seek, find, and destroy” responses to environmental positives. This mentality has driven the prevalence of Listeria down by 85 percent. This, combined with interventions to inhibit growth or post-package pasteurization, has truly reduced listeriosis risk in pre-packaged ready-to-eat meat and poultry products. •
  • The meat and poultry industry has not found raw uncooked finished product testing particularly helpful as a pathogen preventative measure due to inherent sampling statistical limitations. Finished product testing can be useful as a verification that control systems are working if the inherent statistical uncertainty is considered.

“As much progress as the industry has made in reducing bacteria on meat, we realize there is still more to do,” Dr Milkowski concluded.

“Meat is a microbiologically perishable product and there is a critical role for food preparers to play in ensuring food safety.

"Safe food handling instructions appear on all raw meat and poultry products and continued education of consumers needs to be maintained with a means to measure consumer handling and preparation practices.”

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