The public sees food safety as a growing issue and the food industry must make sure its focus is on risk reduction, a National Restaurant Association official told participants at the Food Safety Consortium Symposium at the University of Arkansas.
Steven Grover, the association's director of technical services, public health and safety, warned that consumers' ideas about food safety come down to numbers of illnesses and outbreaks reported in mass media. "That's where the public gets its perception of whether something is safe or not," he said.
Those involved in food safety efforts - research scientists, producers, processors, and retailers - must frame their arguments in terms of risk reduction, Grover said. "It's very difficult in the face of illness to talk about risk reduction because people have an assumption that they want absolutely safe food products. We all know that is not the case and that there is a risk level associated with all goods."
The food industry must make sure it does not deliver a perception that food can be guaranteed absolutely safe, Grover said. "We're dealing in this day and age and we'll be dealing for a lot more years to come in risk reduction."
Grover said industry must be careful not to misplace its resources "on where the media or non-science tell us to focus." Food safety efforts should "focus on the real science and not focus on the perceptions."
As an example, Grover explained that many people would say that E. coli pathogenic bacteria concern them more than other food safety problems. "But there's a much greater chance of contracting salmonellosis or many other diseases," he said. "Salmonella has reached the level where it's rather common so it doesn't elicit a big response every time you get a case."
Restaurants and other food suppliers must work to reduce the 5 to 6 percent of foodborne illness outbreaks that were caused by E. coli 0157:H7 in 1994, Grover said, but he questioned whether it would be an effective use of resources to focus all efforts on that problem while other foodborne illnesses remain. Public perceptions, however, can cause pressure on food suppliers to emphasize that particular situation.
"Many people in this country feel that food safety has gotten worse because they hear more about it," Grover said. "As someone who has been watching it from a public health and safety perspective, I feel it's gotten much better. Our reporting of data has gotten much better. I hear of efforts by the Centers for Disease Control to start getting better food industry data. We applaud that effort to find out where the illnesses are coming from.
"But as we start reporting more foodborne illness, people are going to think foodborne illness is on the rise. It's always been there, but there's the perception that must be dealt with."
Grover was concerned that federal agencies would take actions based on public perceptions of the problems rather than on the basis of scientific information. "Don't think that because we don't have good science that federal regulatory agencies will not move forward," he said. "They will have to move. They will move forward with regulations, they will move forward with controls. In the absence of sound science they will have to use public perception."
Perceptions can hurt restaurants associated with outbreaks of foodborne illness regardless of where the fault lies. Pointing out that an incident of foodborne illness can put a restaurant out of business, Grover said it makes no difference to the public whether the bacteria that caused an outbreak originated at the farm, the processor or the transporter. "If you find out later it came from another level, it doesn't matter. The restaurant is damaged."
Because restaurants doing a good job of ensuring food safety can be hurt by competitors who do an unsatisfactory job, restaurants share among themselves control strategies that they find to be effective. Grover offered these recommendations to restaurant operators:
* Know their suppliers and buy those with good reputations.
* Check their meat and poultry thoroughly upon receipt. "If something happens to it in transport before it comes to the customer, you've got a problem."
* Assure temperature control at all steps.
* Enforce proper hand washing among employees. "There's probably from a restaurant standpoint no better intervention strategy."
The processing stage for food products is a key step in insuring their safety and presents some major challenges. Participants at the Food Safety Consortium Symposium at the University of Arkansas recently discussed with representatives from industry some of the problems that scientists and processors must face.
To make progress in fighting foodborne illnesses, researchers must identify fundamental technological solutions for processors to use, said Jim Marsden, a Consortium principal investigator at Kansas State University.
Marsden cited salmonellosis as an example, noting the disease has been traced to the presence of Salmonella enteritidis bacteria in raw unpasteurized eggs. "If you're talking about technological solutions, then if we can figure out a way to pasteurize eggs, the Salmonella enteritidis no longer becomes an issue," Marsden said.
The Campylobacter bacterium is also a leading cause of foodborne illness because of raw and unpasteurized meat and poultry products. Marsden said the key to that problem could be the development of a technological solution to address Campylobacter at an earlier stage in processing.
Also, raw unpasteurized ground beef aids the presence of pathogenic E. coli 0157:H7 bacteria. "The fundamental technology to address the hazard has not been developed," he said. "If you start getting at the core fundamental issue, you eliminate it at the source and then the product has much less likelihood of presenting hazards."
There are many points in the food production and processing chain at which infection and contamination by harmful bacteria can be prevented. "But it is basically only at slaughter and processing that we have the kill steps," said George Beran, the Consortium program director at Iowa State University. "At the farm, we can only prevent. Once it leaves the packing plant and goes to further processing at the supermarket, we can only prevent."
In addition to addressing problems brought about by airborne organisms in plants and by human contamination of food, Beran said, "we need to pay more attention to the protection of products after they leave the packing and processing levels. We need to address how we package and how we prepare those products to leave processing so they would be protected until they reach the ultimate consumer."
Beran listed irradiation among the kill steps that can work on packaged products at the end of the chain and protect it thereafter. "We need this emphasis on applied research to get into actual use these technological developments that are coming about in basic research," he said.
At the farms where livestock and poultry are produced, producers implement scientific strategies to head off or reduce potential contamination of the animals before they travel to the processing plants where further efforts to eliminate pathogenic bacteria are also a priority. The producers employ a variety of ways to battle many types of pathogenic bacteria within the animals.
The quest for safe meat and poultry is marked by interventions throughout the path from farm to table, with each one reinforcing and building upon what was done previously. The first stages, carried out at the farm, are aimed at diseases that could infect animals and prove harmful to humans if left unchecked.
Personnel from food processing and marketing industries gathered recently at the Food Safety Consortium Symposium at the University of Arkansas to discuss findings from current research and its impact on food production.
The poultry industry is vertically integrated, which allows industry control of "most if not all of the production phase of the business," said James Denton, a member of the Consortium's Technical Executive Committee and director of the University of Arkansas Center of Excellence for Poultry Science. That has enabled the industry to enhance safety by raising poultry within confined environments. "As a matter of going into confinement, we actually exercise some controls and prevention of poultry disease organisms being introduced into a flock," Denton explained.
The poultry industry also uses biosecurity programs to control microbial pathogens. "We focused primarily on the disease agents of poultry," Denton said. "The logic behind that is that a healthy animal provides a wholesome product once it is through with the production phase and moves into the processing phase."
The Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points system - HACCP - is a procedure in which producers and processors intervene at specific points in the farm-to-processing pathway to reduce hazards to food safety and to prevent introduction of other hazards. The components of the poultry industry "operate under a set of what we refer to as Best Management Practices if it's a production environment or Good Manufacturing Practices if it's in a processing plant," Denton said. "The purpose of this is not only to assure us that we're producing a very high quality product at an affordable price but also a product that is very safe."
Several technologies are available that enable the use of microbiological controls. Denton cited competitive exclusion as one of those technologies, describing it as a technique in which a favorable microflora is introduced into a baby chick at hatching. The microflora then colonize the chick's intestinal tract and exclude other potential colonizers that would be pathogenic, such as salmonella. Biosecurity programs already in place can be expanded to prevent the introduction of other types of organisms into the production environment.
"Despite the fact that we have fairly good control from the standpoint of business, marketing and production approaches, the success with regard to eliminating human pathogens within the live production cycle is well short of 100 percent," Denton said, "primarily because the entire environment that these are produced in cannot be controlled. There are multiple sources of pathogens that can get back into that production system."
The same intervention principles govern the pork industry's approach to fighting foodborne organisms. George Beran, the Consortium's program director at Iowa State University and a member of the Technical Executive Committee, noted that pathogens such as Trichina, Toxoplasma and Cysticerci require living animals to multiply so they won't wind up in the final product if hogs do not leave the farm infected with them.
"But those pathogens that infect swine on the farm and that come into the packing plant can go through the system," Beran said, "if they can also multiply in tissue. These will also multiply in the meat." He pointed to Salmonella as a classic example of a pathogen that will multiply if producers and processors do not stop it on the way. Producers must also beware of environmental organisms, such as Listeria monocytogenes and Clostridium, that contaminate the swine inside and outside and throughout the handling processes. The farm is only one control point for those organisms, Beran said.
The pathogens that cause the most difficult resistance are those placed on the product by human handling, Beran said.Two of the most prevalent of all organisms - Staphylococcus aureus and the Norwalk virus - account for more than half the nation's outbreaks of foodborne disease.
Beran mentioned other procedures that pork producers use to combat Salmonella - segregated early weaning, in which baby pigs are taken from sows at very young ages so they won't be infected; age-segregated rearing, in which pigs are placed in separate facilities by age groups to prevent infection from moving across age groups; and emptying all the pigs from a holding facility and cleaning it before bringing in a new group of pigs to replace them.
"These things are making a difference, but with salmonella it is not an easy thing," Beran said. "What we mostly seem to be doing is delaying the age at which they become infected with Salmonella."
In the beef industry, producers are on the lookout for chemical residues. Curtis Kastner, the Consortium program director at Kansas State University and Technical Executive Committee member, said producers look for organophosphate pesticides that may have been added to the live animal and make sure the residue hasn't wound up in the product.
"There is some interest in dioxins and how they may show up in muscles," Kastner said. "There is also some interest in how mold toxins might show up in the muscle."
Kastner noted that those concerns aren't necessarily the
biggest issues in safety of beef products and may not be frequent problems.
"But we felt from the standpoint of being accountable to consumers
and being accountable from the standpoint of the Consortium that if we knew
these were looming out there we might try to get the answers for them and
get a storehouse of information before the questions are asked."
The Food Safety Consortium turned a corner a few weeks ago. Our researchers from the Consortium's three universities hosted a symposium for its primary customers - industry and consumers. Its premise was straightforward: to explain to representatives of these groups what we have been doing in food safety research and to receive some direction from them.
When we assembled for a day of conferences at the University of Arkansas campus, it was not the first time industry and the Consortium have consulted each other. Our stakeholders in industry have been an active part of the Consortium's growth and management in its decade of existence. Our steering committee has always had representatives from the poultry, pork and beef industries among its members. Our researchers have stayed in touch with developments in industry and have frequently discussed the focus of their work with people in the daily business of producing and processing food.
But what happened at the symposium signified the first time the Consortium has organized a forum for this type of exchange. We have sent our people to numerous conferences over the years at which they presented papers and traded ideas with industrial representatives in attendance. At this symposium, however, our intent was to bring industry and consumers into the meeting aîime focus. Instead of the usual academic format of paper presentations, we had some informal talks around the table.
We emphasized the things that matter a great deal to the food safety constituencies: consumer perspectives as seen by two newspaper food page editors, ways to intervene in the production and processing of food to reduce risks, and methods of detecting pathogenic bacteria.
One exchange may have helped sum up the need for a meeting of this type. A conference participant wanted to know how many pathogenic bacteria must be present before a danger to food is realized. In response, one of our Consortium investigators offered several examples to explain why there was no catch-all answer to that question because of the many variables involved in different situations. It was a small point in a full day of discussions, but it showed how the simple exchange of questions and answers enabled the participants to better understand each others' perspectives.
The symposium was the first of what we plan to establish as an annual event. We expect future sessions to grow in size as word gets out about the dialogues that are going on here. The interactive aspect of this symposium demonstrates the Food Safety Consortium's mission is not merely to present its research findings but also to solicit ideas from consumers and industrial representatives as we determine what our research priorities will be.
The Food Safety Consortium has produced a color brochure highlighting the organization's activities. Information about projects at each of the consortium's three member institutions - the University of Arkansas, Iowa State University and Kansas State University - is presented on separate panels of the brochure.
Copies of the brochure are available through the Consortium's offices at each of the three universities. To obtain copies, contact:
* University of Arkansas - Dave Edmark, 110 Agriculture Building, Fayetteville, Ark. 72701; 501-575-5647 (voice) or 501-575-7531 (fax); email@example.com (e-mail).
* Iowa State University - Sue McLaughlin, 2132 Veterinary Medicine, Ames, Iowa 50011-1250; 515-294-8308 (voice) or 515-294-8500 (fax); firstname.lastname@example.org (e-mail).
* Kansas State University - Marty Vanier, 214 Weber Hall,
Manhattan, Kan. 66506; 913-532-1210 (voice) or 913-532-7059 (fax); email@example.com (e-mail).
To reduce the prevalence of salmonellosis among pigs, Food Safety Consortium researchers have found that one relatively simple method might help: segregate the pigs soon after birth to stop the spread of infection.
Theodore Kramer, a principal investigator with the Consortium and a professor at the Iowa State University Veterinary Medicine Research Institute, considers segregation to be a partial solution that could keep salmonella bacteria temporarily under control among pigs. Segregation, he said, "is not going to eradicate the disease. It's going to keep it in check for some time."
Kramer's research dealt with a herd of pigs infected with swine paratyphoid that was caused by the Salmonella choleraesuis bacterium. Sows were later vaccinated. One group of newborn pigs were kept on the premises where the outbreak had occurred. Another group of 50 recently weaned pigs were segregated from the site.
Among the pigs that stayed at the original site, the frequency of positive tests for Salmonella choleraesuis infection increased over time in most pigs. But a study of the 50 pigs that were segregated from the site showed no sign of salmonella among 48 of them.
When recently weaned pigs are segregated to a new location, they are shipped to a farm that has undergone a complete clDd turnover of pigs. In this experiment, the pigs were shipped to a new building that had not been previously occupied.
"A pig lot gets in and then it gets out," Kramer said. "There are no residual pigs stirring things up and perpetuating whatever infection may be present. When they go out, the premises are thoroughly disinfected."
But was salmonella reduced or fully eliminated? "This we really don't know because the criterion was serology," Kramer said. "Of those 50 pigs, 48 have no antibodies, and we presume they are not infected. But this may not be sufficient evidence."
Kramer's study concluded that segregating early-weaned pigs reduces the prevalence of salmonellosis but it does not necessarily eliminate its incidence. He believes the process has merit, but Kramer cautions that the system is not necessarily a foolproof solution or one that works every time. Although the procedure may work for recently weaned pigs, it would not likely be successful in reducing salmonellosis among older pigs that had been infected.
"It would probably be too late once you had a disease outbreak," Kramer said. "The point is to get to it before they get it. Once you have signs of salmonellosis it means that for each sick pig there are maybe 10 or 20 carriers. ... I think that if segregation works, it works with newborn animals."
George W. Beran, Iowa State, has been appointed to the National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria for Foods. The committee is the joint study and advisory body on prevention and control of foodborne disease for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Health and Human Services Department, the Defense Department and the Commerce Department. It advises the U.S. in its positions at the Codex Alimentarius, the United Nations food quality and trade body. Beran, a distinguished professor of veterinary medicine, chairs the Food Safety Consortium at Iowa State and is director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Center in Risk Assessment and Hazard Inrtervention of Foods of Animal Origin at Iowa State. He is also chairman of the American Veterinary Medical Association's food safety committee.
Daniel Fung, Kansas State, has received the 1997 Institute of Food Technologists International Award. Fung was nominated for the award based on his International Rapid Methods and Automation in Microbiology Workshop activities and promotion of applied microbiology through research presentations, publications and organization of meetings and seminars in the international arena. The award, one of the highest in IFT, carries a plaque and a $3,000 prize. It will be presented to Fung at IFT's national meeting in June in Orlando, Fla.
The Minnesota section of IFT presented Fung its Harold Macy Award in Food Science and Technology. The award carries a plaque and a $1,500 prize. Fung delivered a paper on rapid methods in food microbiology at the Minnesota IFT meeting.
Fung was also invited to deliver a paper on efficiency in the microbiological laboratory through automation and innovative procedures in April at the American Association of Immunologists' seminar on "Moving Pharmaceutical Microbiology into the 21st Century" in Wilmington, N.C.
Fung was selected to be the featured speaker at the Johnson & Johnson technical committee banquet in May in Lamberville, N.J.
Several articles co-authored by Fung have been published recently in journals. They include "Fate of Escherichia coli O157:H7 in Laboratory Medium Treated With Phenolic Antioxidant" in the Journal of Food Science, Vol. 61, 1-5; "Evaluation of Candida Isolation Medium in Food Hygiene in Hungary" in the Journal of Rapid Methods and Automation in Microbiology, Vol. 4 (4), 279-284; "The Role of Pathogen Testing in Validating HACCP Critical Control Points," with James Marsden, Randall Phebus, R.K. Prasai, Curtis Kastner, E.A.E. Boyle, H. Thippareddi and Marty Vanier, all of Kansas State, in the Journal of Rapid Methods and Automation in Microbiology, Vol. 4 (4), 247-250; "Rapid Methods in Microbiology for Cereal Products" in Cereal Foods World, Vol. 41 (1), 1-4; "Miniaturized Anaerobic Cultivation Methods for Recovery of Clostridium sporogenes From Meat" in the Journal of Rapid Methods and Automation in Microbiology, Vol. 4 (4), 307-316; "Alkaline Fermented Foods: A Review With Emphasis on Pidan Fermentation" in Critical Review in Microbiology; "Preparation of Bacteriological Samples" in Proceedings of Food Associated Pathogens Symposium, May 6-8, 1996, Uppsala, Sweden; "Biological and Physical Sampling Efficiency Evaluation of a Portable Impactor Air Sampler" in Archivo Veterinario Italiano, Vol. 47 (3), 115 118; and "Evaluation of Sandwiched Microtiter Plate (SMP) and Mini-Tube Methods for Recovery of Clostridium perfingens From Foods" in Foods and Biotechnology, Vol. 5 (3), 226-228.
Randall Phebus, Kansas State, delivered presentations on "Food Safety Research Impact" at the annual KSU Cattlemen's Day and on "Effectiveness of Steam Pasteurization for Beef Carcass Decontamination" to a joint group of governmental officials from the United Kingdom Meat and Livestock Commission, Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food and the Institute of Food Research in Milton Keynes, England.
Phebus' work in steam pasteurization was recognized when Kansas State, Frigoscandia Inc., and Cargill, Inc., won the International Processors Association Innovation Award/Meat Sector Award in Paris in October.
Phebus co-authored papers on "Evaluation of a Steam Pasteurization Process in a Commercial Beef Processing Facility" with Abby Nutsch, M.J. Riemann, D.E. Schafer, J.E. Boyer Jr., R.C. Wilson, J.D. Leising and Curtis Kastner, all of Kansas State, in Journal of Food Protection, May 1997; and "Comparison of Steam Pasteurization and Other Methods for Reduction of Pathogens on Freshly Slaughtered Beef Surfaces" in the Journal of Food Protection, May 1997.
Amy Waldroup, Arkansas, presented symposia entitled "Practical Methods to Control Microorganisms on Processed Poultry" in Ecuador, Colombia, Guatemala, Costa Rica and Panama. The presentations were sponsored by 3M Microbiology Division. Waldroup also recently received a $30,000 grant from BOC Gases.
Evelyn Dean-Nystrom, National Animal Disease Center, is an invited speaker for the VTEC '97 conference in June in Baltimore. She is scheduled to speak on bovine infections with E. coli 0157:H7.
Dean-Nystrom was also a co-author of a presentation at the 32nd U.S.-Japan Cholera and Related Diarrheal Disease Conference in November in Nagasaki, Japan, on "Intimin: Candidate for an Escherichia coli 9157:H7 Anti-Transmission Vaccine.
Dean-Nystrom, Brad Bosworth, and William Cray, all of the National Animal Disease Center, and Harley W. Moon of Iowa State were co-authors of "Pathogenicity of Escherchia coli in the Intestines of Neonatal Calves," which has been accepted for publication in the May edition of Infection and Immunity.
H.M. Stahr, Iowa State, has been invited to deliver a lecture on "Analysis for Fusaproliforin" at the Midwest Mycotoxin Symposium in June in Fargo, N.D. In February he presented a lecture on "Update on Mycotoxins" to the Seminar Toxicology Group at Iowa State. Stahr has also submitted an article on "Analysis for Fusaproliforin" to the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. His article on "Reducing Aflatoxin in Milk" has been accepted by Natural Toxins.
Philip J. Breen, Hamid Salari and
Cesar M. Compadre, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, are
the co-authors of "Elimination of Salmonella Contamination From
Poultry Tissues by Cetylpyridinium Chloride Solutions," which has been
accepted for publication in the Journal of Food Protection.
Pasteurization is a way of eliminating contamination that develops on a food product during the processing phase. Producers and processors may have done their part to keep the product clean through the various stages, but the threat of contamination at the next stage cannot be overlooked.
The use of irradiation through electron beams is one method that meat processors can employ to lock in the pathogen-free status at the end of the line before distribution. But irradiation has yet to spread widely across the industry as processors await a government ruling that could assist their efforts to implement the system.
The federal Food and Drug Administration is expected to consider a petition that will seek to reclassify electron-beam irradiation as "electronic pasteurization." The change in designation would have significance beyond just a new name.
"One of the hurdles in terms of implementation is that the FDA considers irradiation as a food additive, which is the hardest classification to work under," said James Marsden, a Food Safety Consortium principal investigator at Kansas State University. "There's really no good reason for that. It's not a food additive. It's a process."
Marsden, a professor of animal sciences and industry at KSU, said there is good scientific rationale to petition the FDA for a reclassification of the process. There also happens to be some advantage in the name change itself so labels on meat products subjected to the process could say "pasteurized" instead of "irradiated."
"I think consumers accept irradiation as a label but it doesn't accurately reflect what you're doing in the process," Marsden said. "If you use the term 'pasteurization' instead of 'irradiation,' an American Meat Institute consumer study showed acceptance is very, very high."
If the FDA approves the reclassification, then the U.S. Department of Agriculture would develop a new rule governing how meat processors should implement electronic pasteurization. "Once that happens, companies want to know what we have to go out and buy to make this happen," Marsden said. "They want to know which system works the best in a processing environment that actually irradiates packaged products or ground beef patties."
Irradiation - or electronic pasteurization - has been the object of skepticism by some consumer organizations. "They said they don't want to have to eat fecal material whether it's irradiated or not," Marsden said. But the implementation of Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points systems (HACCP) under new federal regulations requires processors to intervene along the way to keep products clean.
"You have zero tolerance (under USDA rules) for visible contaminants on carcasses. You have sanitation standard operating procedures which will be required of all plants. So the fecal material is not going to be there," Marsden said.
Beef carcasses can also be subjected to steam pasteurization to combat microbiological contamination, another process being researched at KSU by the Food Safety Consortium. "So you have carcasses that are the cleanest visually and the cleanest microbiologically than we've ever had before. So that changes the equation."
Steam pasteurization and electronic pasteurization provide a margin of safety, Marsden said, to assure that when customers buy a package of meat or poultry that they are buying a pasteurized product free of pathogens.
"Even with our best efforts - if you steam pasteurize, if you have HACCP, if you have the optimal conditions in your plant - you still don't have a pasteurized product when it goes to consumers without irradiation," Marsden said. "I think the food safety focus for the years to come is going to be on providing a pasteurized raw meat and poultry product to consumers."
A meat decontamination process developed by Kansas State University food microbiology researchers for two of the world's largest meat processing companies is being billed as the most effective weapon in killing the dangerous E. coli and salmonella bacteria.
The Steam Pasteurization System 400 is a new technological concept in meat safety, according to Randy Phebus, a Food Safety Consortium principal investigator and a KSU assistant professor of food sciences. The antimicrobial treatment, developed for Frigoscandia of Seattle and Cargill, Inc., of Minneapolis, uses pressurized steam rather than chemicals to kill these pathogens on slaughtered animals. It received an international innovation award in France last October.
"For the first time we have a very reliable, very effective treatment where raw animal carcasses pass through a 37-foot-long tunnel that applies large quantities of steam to the carcass surface," Phebus said. "This kills a large percentage of bacteria on carcass surfaces and greatly reduces the risk of enteric pathogens such as E. coli and salmonella in the meat supply."
According to Phebus, the pathogens, found in the intestinal tracts of cattle, are passed on to the meat's surface during the slaughtering process either through skinning the animal, removing the intestinal tract, handling the carcass or through other means.
Following standard wash and dry procedures the carcass is immersed in pressurized steam to envelope every square inch for six to eight seconds in the SPS 400. This raises the surface temperature to 185 degrees. Phebus said the brief amount of time the carcass is exposed to those temperatures is more than adequate to kill bacteria.
The carcass is then immediately sprayed with chilled water, bringing the surface temperature down to 65 degrees Fahrenheit before it is stored in a holding cooler. Phebus said this rapid procedure prevents discoloration and a "cooked look" of the carcass, which is unacceptable for consumers desiring a fresh-looking product.
Phebus said the steam pasteurization process is superior to other decontamination technologies because it does not involve environmental issues, is economical and energy efficient. Other processes have been previously tried but were unable to consistently provide the amount of microbial kills desired.
"For 30 years people have tried to use steam for different applications but they met with a lot of obstacles that they could never master from an engineering standpoint," Phebus explained.
Phebus cautions the new technology only reduces the risk of bacteria. Ultimately the most important role in food safety, which includes proper handling and preparation of meat, belongs to the consumer.
"We don't claim to sterilize the meat," Phebus said. "Even if we did, as the meat carcass goes on down the line it's handled, it's cut; there are opportunities to reintroduce bacterial contamination."
Since receiving USDA approval for the design in December 1995, six SPS 400 units have been installed in North America. An SPS 400 was recently installed at a facility in Dodge City, Kan. Another 50 facilities are scheduled to receive systems in the next year and a half. Phebus said a large percentage of meat slaughtered in this country will soon be decontaminated using this process.
Phebus is working on a smaller version of the SPS 400 that will allow more "batch-type" decontamination of 60 carcasses per hour and possibly pasteurization for poultry and pork. A system that will decontaminate beef trimmings used to produce ground beef is currently being developed with Frigoscandia, Cargill and McDonald's.
"Our major problem with E. coli has been with ground beef products," Phebus said. "After you grind it up it's very difficult to get rid of the bacteria other than through cooking it. If you can decontaminate the surfaces of the trim before you grind it, then you've made a major step forward in food safety."
Phebus said the potential for this technology is unlimited. Decontamination of raw fruits, vegetables and the surface of eggs are other possible uses for the technology.
The switch to science-based HACCP procedures in poultry plants under the new federal meat inspection regulations will represent "a significant cultural change for our inspection force," a U.S. Department of Agriculture official said at a poultry processors' workshop.
USDA inspectors are being trained to understand the need for the procedural changes and why the new methods are necessary, said Dr. Chuck Glotfelty, regional director of the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service office in Dallas. He spoke in November to the Arkansas Processors Workshop in Fayetteville sponsored by the Arkansas Processors Committee, the Arkansas Poultry Federation and the University of Arkansas.
Inspectors who have been working on off-line slaughter aspects of poultry processing are converting their emphasis to a performance-based inspection system. Before HACCP procedures are officially required to be implemented, Glotfelty said, "we will be documenting sanitation deficiencies." Government action will be taken based on the classification of deficiencies rather than the number of deficiencies.
"We haven't gotten any negative feedback," Glotfelty said of the FSIS plans.
The goal of the new regulations is to reduce pathogens based on scientific procedures, Glotfelty said. He listed four key provisions of the new regulations: Sanitation standard operating procedures, HACCP, generic testing for E. coli, and establishment of performance standards for salmonella detection.
On Jan. 27, 1997, sanitation standard operating procedures became effective in all plants. That same day, Glotfelty said, generic testing for E. coli began for all slaughtered carcasses and plants will use their own labs for testing. FSIS inspectors will be interested only in seeing that industries have actually begun the testing, Glotfelty said. On July 25, 1997, FSIS inspectors will begin reviewing test results as part of their routine.
Generic E. coli is commonly found in the intestinal tract of animals and is a good indicator whether there is fecal contamination, Glotfelty said. Plants will take their own samples, use their own labs and present the results to FSIS inspectors. The results will be used to determine if an aspect of the slaughter process needs to be changed.
"It's going to be an indicator and that's how we intend to use it," Glotfelty said.
HACCP procedures will be required to be implemented in large plants by Jan. 26, 1998; in small plants by January 1999, and in the smallest plants by January 2000. "HACCP is designed to prevent problems before they occur and correct deficiencies," he said.
Salmonella performance standards will apply to chilled carcasses and raw brown products, Glotfelty said. Salmonella was selected because it is the most common contaminant found in processing plants. But unlike the procedure for E. coli in which the plant does its own testing, FSIS will perform the tests for salmonella.
Testing by FSIS will begin right away to determine how each plant is doing and to provide feedback, Glotfelty said. But actual enforcement won't begin until January 1998. Before that, however, FSIS will hold a conference to see if changes in the standards should be made based on the tests' results.
An FSIS survey showed that a majority of industry can meet the salmonella standards. "I don't feel like we're out to shut down a major part of the industry," Glotfelty said.
If a plant has too many positive test results after three sets of samples are collected, FSIS will step in to take action, Glotfelty said. But he said he was unable to tell at this point what action might be taken.
The salmonella test results taken by FSIS will be public information subject to release and will be posted on the Internet, he said. The tests for E. coli will not be released to the public because they will be taken by the plants rather than FSIS.
These are excerpts from remarks prepared for delivery by Thomas J. Billy, administrator of the Food Safety and Inspection Service, before the Livestock Conservation Institute on April 1 in Columbus, Ohio.
Today, I want to discuss how the FSIS strategy for change will affect food animal producers. While we have no regulatory authority at the animal production level, and the new food safety requirements we are implementing are aimed directly at plants, we believe our regulatory changes will have an indirect effect on the food animal production and marketing industries. We want to work with you to be sure you are ready for these changes and want to provide whatever assistance we can to make the transition easier.
As I'm sure you know, FSIS has embarked on a broad effort to bring about necessary changes in its food safety programs. Our overall goal is to ensure that appropriate and feasible risk based measures are taken at each step in the food production process where hazards can occur, and where procedures and technologies exist, or can be developed, to prevent or reduce the hazards.
Our most intensive efforts have focused on meat and poultry slaughter and processing plants. The centerpiece of our strategy at the in-plant level is the final rule on Pathogen Reduction and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) systems, which was published on July 25, 1996. ...
We are working with the Food and Drug Administration, which has regulatory authority over the foods FSIS does not regulate, to explore what changes should be made to address food safety once products leave the inspected establishment. We also recognize that state and local governments have significant responsibility for food safety outside the plant environment, and we are committed to working with these groups, too. We are exploring what approaches might work to foster food safety improvements during the transportation and storage of potentially hazardous foods. We are now seeking input on several alternatives, including temperature performance standards, mandatory HACCP systems, and voluntary guidelines.
At the retail level, we recognize that the primary responsibility for overseeing food safety resides with state and local governments. We fully support the Food Code process and the forum provided by the Conference for Food Protection for developing the best model code for State adoption. We are currently working with FDA to finalize the 1997 Food Code and get it adopted and implemented.
At the animal production level, FSIS has no regulatory authority to mandate food animal production practices that could potentially reduce and control pathogens and other hazards, nor do we believe that mandatory programs are the way to go. Our strategy is to encourage the voluntary use of food safety and quality assurance programs, based on HACCP principles, to reduce preharvest food safety risks.
One reason supporting reliance on this voluntary approach is that industry has successfully adopted voluntary residue avoidance programs, and, as a result, violative drug residues are low.
Another reason supporting a voluntary approach is that scientific knowledge has not reached the point where anyone can say, with any certainty, what practices will reduce microbial pathogens at the pre-slaughter stage. There are many complicating factors controlling microbial hazards before slaughter, including unknown reservoirs; the ubiquitous nature of some microbial pathogens; and lack of specific, sensitive, and cost effective diagnostic tests.
But we are seeing some progress. For instance, researchers are looking at various strategies to reduce Salmonella and Campylobacter in poultry. These strategies include the use of competitive exclusion and yeast products; vaccines, and new sanitation procedures in the hatchery and during transport. Producers are also being encouraged to use good production practices such as pest and vector control; feed, water, and litter management; and obtaining feed and chicks
from suppliers on certified Salmonella reduction programs. And research on E. coli O157:H7 may confirm that water troughs and feed are reservoirs for the organism.
Because research at the animal production level offers us opportunities for improving food safety, we are working with other federal agencies, academia, and the animal production community to identify problems and guide research and other activities to address the greatest public health risks. We have a vested interest in helping producers learn what changes in management practices can reduce the levels of pathogens with animals coming to slaughter. This research will not only help us to determine what can reasonably be done to reduce pathogens at the animal production level, but what can't reasonably be done. It is important that we know the feasibility, practicality, and costs of interventions before we recommend that they be implemented.
We believe that two forces are working together to make our voluntary approach with producers work. First, we expect that continued public concern about foodborne pathogens and chemical residues will provide a strong incentive to the animal production industry to implement HACCP-based systems, even if they are not required. The public expects all of us to take our fair share of responsibility for food safety, and the animal production community is not immune, nor
should it be, to this public pressure. We all need to work together to maintain consumer confidence in animal products.
Second, while the final rule on Pathogen Reduction and HACCP has no direct effect on producers, we believe that the adoption of HACCP and food safety performance standards within slaughter and processing plants will have a ripple effect on the animal production industry. As plants are required to meet the various measures of performance contained in the final rule and begin to implement HACCP plans that cover microbial, as well as chemical contamination, we
believe that plants will begin to expect more information about animals coming into the plant.
This trend will be particularly evident with residue control. Under the final HACCP final rule, slaughter plants must assume more practical responsibility for the control of animal drug, pesticide, and chemical residues. Residue control will need to be a component of a plant's HACCP plan, and measures appropriate to control residues in specific animals must be part of that plan. ...
We also want to be sure that all producers have an opportunity to continue to market animals in a HACCP regulatory environment. We know that major producers who are members of commodity groups probably have access to the information they need to develop quality assurance programs. We are concerned about the small producers who may not have a support system to provide that information. We want to provide support to organizations - whether they are government agencies, universities, industry organizations, or private groups - that have an interest in reaching producers who may not be reached by the traditional information routes. ...
We also have committed to providing funds to support the Food Animal Residue Avoidance Databank to gather extra-label animal drug use and pesticide profiles. Specifically, we believe there is a need for this information in minor species, including exotic food animals. This information will be needed by FSIS to support decision-making during food contamination incidents and to support residue monitoring efforts. And it will assist veterinary practitioners in selecting and using animal drugs appropriately. ...
While these challenges alone are enough to keep you busy, there are more issues on which we need to work together. Humane handling practices is one of them. A recent survey on humane slaughter practices carried out by Temple Grandin through an Agricultural Research Service contract reveals that there is room for improvement. One of Dr. Grandin's goals is to develop criteria that can be used in evaluating humane handling practices, and we support her work
in developing these criteria and providing us with feedback on the job we are doing.
In light of her findings, we are now exploring options to improve humane handling practices, including our own antemortem inspection tasks, especially as they relate to disabled animals. At the very least, we believe that some of the problems can be reduced significantly through better training and education. We are committed to allocating resources to address the situation and look forward to working with all segments of the industry on this important issue. ...
In closing, I believe that regulatory changes underway in meat and poultry plants provide an opportunity for those involved in producing and marketing animals to examine their role in improving the safety of meat and poultry. I commend you for the progress made already in implementing quality assurance programs for residues, and I know you will bring the same commitment to exploring whether there are similar steps that can be taken before animals reach the
slaughter plant to prevent or reduce microbial pathogens.
FSIS is committed to participating in various activities to help increase the base of knowledge on animal production food safety. But I urge you to consider our assistance as just one small part of the intensive effort that will be needed to improve preharvest food safety.
Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman has announced a final regulation to clarify
and strengthen USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service's zero tolerance policy on visible fecal matter on poultry carcasses. The regulation complements the new meat and poultry inspection system established last summer and will further reduce food-borne illnesses.
This final rule is one component of the proposed Enhanced Poultry Inspection Program, published as a proposed rule in October 1994. The Pathogen Reduction/HACCP - or Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point - final rule issued in July 1996 superceded most aspects of the proposed enhanced poultry inspection program. This final rule codifies FSIS existing zero tolerance policy on visible fecal contamination of poultry, specifying that poultry carcasses
contaminated with feces are not allowed to enter chilling tanks, where contamination could spread to other carcasses.
The rule also eliminates a portion of FSIS regulations which, on their face, appeared to be inconsistent with the zero tolerance policy.
"We are reinforcing our policy that contamination is unacceptable," FSIS Administrator Tom Billy said. Billy also noted that FSIS has consistently enforced a zero tolerance policy for meat and poultry products.
President Clinton's food safety initiative will be the subject of a conference June 12-13 in Washington. The conference, "Changing Strategies, Changing Behavior: What Food safety Communicators Need to Know" will be held at the Hotel Washington. The meeting will be devoted exclusively to developing education programs to change consumers' food handling behavior.
The conference is recommended for industry, trade and consumer organization communicators; state and local health educators; academicians who develop food safety education materials or those who follow trends in health education.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will sponsor the conference. The registration fee is $100. Registration forms may be obtained by faxing a request to Isabelle Howes at the USDA Graduate School at 202-401-7304. The registration deadline is June 5.
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The Clinton administration's food safety initiative is generating discussion in the national food safety community. An editorial in the Feb. 3 edition of Feedstuffs, the weekly agribusiness newspaper, praised the effort's emphasis on public education and called for additional concentration on safe food preparation. "Improvements in reporting and early warning systems are noble, but consumer education must be the main emphasis if a solution to foodborne illness is to be reached," Feedstuffs said. "Consumers must be made to understand that they are, in fact, in control when it comes to food safety."
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Research of consumers' attitudes shows that confidence in the safety of beef is on the rise. This has occurred despite last year's publicity about the spread of BSE and E. coli 0157:H7 in Great Britain.
The figures were compiled by Peter D. Hart Research, which found that 75 percent of consumers in 1996 were completely or mostly confident that beef is safe to eat. That figure is up from 72 percent in 1994 and 68 percent in 1992. Among opinion leaders, the confidence rates are even higher, with 88 percent expressing such confidence in the 1996 survey, up from 82 percent in 1994 and 68 percent in 1992.
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Food safety procedures are more than just good public policy and good for public health. They are also good for international business competitiveness, according to Thomas J. Billy, the administration of the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service. Speaking at the International Poultry Exposition in January, Billy said efforts to reduce pathogens and implementation of the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point system "will improve the industry's ability to compete in international markets."
Science-based HACCP steps are currently in the middle of a multi-year implementation process under USDA rules governing meat and poultry processing plants. HACCP systems exceed standards set by the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, Billy said. Another advantage is that the system "better enables us to evaluate and verify the effectiveness of foreign inspection programs in countries that export meat and poultry to the U.S.," he added.
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