As President Trump backs laxer rules for meat processors, concerns are rising over a steady increase in foodborne illnesses. Poultry is the most common source of bacterial disease and, in particular, Salmonella and Campylobacter pathogens. Poultry and egg recall in the last three years have tripled over the previous six years, reports the PIRG Consumer Watchdog.
Of concern is the safety effects of new rules allowing meat processors to speed up slaughter and processing times. These changes will require food inspectors to examine more animals per second. The rollback comes as a high number of coronavirus outbreaks at meat plants has placed their worker and meat handling safety procedures in the spotlight. Among the U.S. industry, poultry, and pork industry employees have experienced the largest number of coronavirus cases.
These new slaughterhouse rules will require food producers, processors, retailers, and handlers in restaurants and hospitals to use stricter safety and equipment standards to protect public health. Equipment upgrades should include:
Personal protective equipment (PPE)
Inspections have revealed that the hands that feed us are not safe. Gloves, masks, and goggles could soon be treated with ultraviolet light and other innovative methods for killing pathogens.
Rapid pathogen detection methods
Advanced testing methods including DNA hybridization, biosensors, and immunoassay-based testing can cut testing from up to 7 days to 48 hours or less. Examples of rapid pathogen detection methods playing a larger role in the reduction of foodborne illnesses include nucleic acid-based methods, which search for specific DNA and RNA sequences to identify pathogens. Faster polymerase chain reaction (PCR) methods are being deployed. Biosensor-based methods are fast and have high sensitivity. They can directly measure a target (enzymes, antibodies, nucleic acids, etc) and immediately produce an optical signal measurement.
Cold storage and proper cooling are critical to the safe handling of meat. In the cold storage, transportation, and food handling stages, a chilling incubator with a digital control panel provides critical thermostat, temperature, and sensor control and alarms. As meat moves further down the food chain closer to the consumer, these practices become laxer. Cooling at too high of temperatures and under inappropriate refrigeration conditions is a common cause of pathogens in the preparation stage before consumption. Since too high of a refrigerator temperature can produce pathogens, climate-controlled refrigerated chillers should be used at this stage too.
A silver lining of the global pandemic is it could provide the meat industry with the impetus to upgrade to the most advanced food handling equipment.