Opportunities to Enhance Food Safety in Meat and Poultry

According to the CDC, an estimated 2 million bacterial illnesses occur each year in the United States from contaminated meat and poultry products. With this in mind, many food suppliers have turned their attention to a dual strategy of being both proactive and how to best quarantine and prevent. Enhancing their biosecurity helps prevent the spread of foreign animal illnesses such as avian influenza, African swine fever, and foot-and-mouth disease, which helps protect their distributors and consumers from handling contaminated product..

A recent report by The PEW Charitable Trusts addressed this concern and provided insight into food safety interventions that can help to reduce the risk of meat and poultry contamination. While the report specifically focuses on prevention at the farm level, of the interventions outlined, food safety tactics included biosecurity, farm management practices, and pathogen surveillance.

A Look at The Research

Many countries outside of the United States have implemented food safety programs that helped to reduce pathogens common in poultry and swine. This has been successfully achieved by cleaning and disinfecting animal housing, extensive testing, and monitoring for pathogens in the animals and feed. Furthermore, identifying and culling infected animals and separating them from the rest of the herd. 

The difference in poultry alone between Norway, Finland, and the United States is remarkable. In Norway and Finland, less than 1% of these country’s poultry flocks were contaminated with Salmonella in 2016. By contrast, among USDA-regulated raw poultry products, Salmonella contaminates about 5% of whole chicken carcasses, 15% of chicken parts such as legs, breasts and wings, and 40% of ground chicken. While these findings are certainly promising, there is still very limited research on how much the implementation of biosecurity measures in these industries has impacted food safety. 

With nearly every other industry embracing data and seeking more ways to use data to analyze trends and gain a better understanding of their own business, food safety companies are looking at their processes in a new way. Government and third-party testing is already required, but when lab tests are returned, many companies are at a loss for what to do with that data. By using that data exhaust to fuel an automated food safety program, not only will it help enhance environmental monitoring, but it can also help prevent recalls by identifying contaminated product before it infects other product and/or hits a distributor or the public. 

Discovering What Works 

PEW experts recommend the use of probiotics and vaccines to reduce the presence of food-borne pathogens. There is strong scientific evidence that supports the implementation of these processes which make a significant impact on public health if adopted across farms and feedlots. By increasing lab testing, these pathogens and diseases can be identified sooner.

Researchers also recommend the need to implement these measures at the farm-level because harmful pathogens often originate there. Preventing and eliminating contamination at this level can keep it from getting any further into the supply chain. By using an automated food safety testing program, food suppliers can check their product and environment to understand if there is any contamination and work to remediate the situation as appropriate.

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