What types of safety measures do farmers and ranchers take to keep consumers safe? Do the packers have to follow best practices, too?
Farmers and ranchers take a number of safety measures. Here are some examples of practices that keep animals free from foodborne pathogens:
- Maintaining animals on slatted or mesh floors is common in modern swine production and some poultry systems, which decreases animal contact with manure and thus with fecal borne pathogens.
- Modern production practices have virtually eliminated some former common causes of human foodborne illnesses. Pathogens, such as Trichinella spiralis, formally one of the most prominent pathogens, have largely disappeared with the movement of pigs to indoor production.
- Keeping water systems clean of manure reduces pathogens. http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/fpd.2010.0717
- Farmers adhere to strict food safety regulations and provide their animals with safe, comfortable housing, nutritious feed and regular veterinary care.
- Dairy farms and plants must meet stringent federal and local regulations, including those developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and state regulatory agencies.
- USDA has conditionally approved an E. coli vaccine for use in cattle on-farm and cattle farmers and ranchers continue to invest in research and convening meetings that have resulted in a variety of safety measures in place throughout the entire food chain from farm to fork. And In 2013, a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that using E. coli vaccines on cattle could prevent up to 83 percent of human infections.
- Mandatory processes, inspections and tests based on decades of experience and research are in place in packing plants across the country.
Packers are also heavily inspected by USDA to ensure consumer safety while also held accountable by strict regulations. The animals are evaluated before harvest and the carcass after harvest to control for any animal health concerns and foodborne pathogens. If inspectors notice any internal abnormalities (lesions in animals’ lungs or abnormalities in their intestines for example), further testing and evaluation occurs. If an animal shows any signs of illness, they are condemned by inspectors and do not enter the food supply.
When it comes to milk, pasteurization destroys harmful bacteria that may be present, including Salmonella, E. coli, M. tuberculosis, Listeria, Campylobacter (cause of most food poisonings), Yersinia and Staph. aureus. Standard heat-based pasteurization is a process whereby milk is quickly heated to a temperature of at least 161° Fahrenheit for at least 15 seconds, and is then rapidly cooled. Strict quality control and regulatory oversight start at the farm, and continue at the manufacturing plant with thorough protocols and product safety measures.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Dietary Guidelines, people should avoid raw (unpasteurized) milk. Bacteria in raw milk can cause a number of illnesses including tuberculosis, brucellosis, salmonellosis, listeriosis (spontaneous abortions in pregnant women) and food poisoning-like symptoms, some of which have the ability to cause longer-term negative health impacts.
Today, less than 1 percent of foodborne illness outbreaks in the U.S. involve dairy products; in 1938, approximately 25 percent of foodborne illness outbreaks were attributed to milk and dairy products. This is contributed to pasteurization and food safety protocols set forth by farmers and milk processing facilities.
These types of improvements and best practices show the farm to fork system working, particularly when looking at the number of foodborne illnesses in decline.