First and foremost, farmers and ranchers are committed to providing safe food and healthy choices for everyone. During the past several decades, farmers and ranchers have continuously improved their processes so Americans can have one of the safest food supplies in the world. And farmers and ranchers continue to look for ways to make this system even better.
The safety of our food system starts with farmers and ranchers and includes U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspection and regulations, and the overall care from those who work in the many food stages of the food chain from farm to fork. USFRA believes that farmers and ranchers carefully follow guidelines and regulations set forth by the government. To read more about the FDA’s food protection plan, click here.
U.S. farmers and ranchers diligently contribute to the safety of food by following a number of guidelines and best management practices. For example, modern production practices have virtually eliminated some formerly common causes of human foodborne illness. Pathogens, such as Trichinella spiralis, once one of the most prominent pathogens, have largely disappeared with the movement of pigs to indoor housing. Other common foodborne pathogens, such as Salmonella, and Toxoplasma also have been greatly reduced because of indoor management, especially when raising pigs. When raising cattle for beef, E coli illnesses have greatly decreased due to farmer and rancher investments in research and convening collaborate (vs. competitive) industry meetings, which have resulted in post-harvest safety and interventions and advancements in vaccines to eliminate the pathogen.
- Adequate and proper animal nutrition clearly plays an important role in ensuring animal health.
- Livestock farmers and ranchers use a variety of husbandry practices, housing strategies and biosecurity measures to decrease disease risk and promote animal health.
- As an example, maintaining animals on slatted or mesh floors, as is common in modern swine production and some poultry systems, decreases animal contact with manure and thus with fecal borne pathogens.
- Animal drinking water is kept clean to avoid contamination from potential disease carriers. In many situations, because of today’s watering systems, pathogens can be avoided.
- Housing certain farm animals indoors can also provide advantages in managing many foodborne organisms.
- Other common practices used to prevent livestock disease include limiting contact between groups of animals having varying degrees of pathogen exposure.
- In 2009, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) conditionally approved the first vaccine to reduce E. coli O157:H7 in cattle, opening up its use for larger trials. Cattle farmers and ranchers invest in research to develop and validate safety interventions like the vaccine and consider any additional tools beneficial to their overall goal of improving safety.
- Cattle farmers and ranchers have been combating E. coli O157:H7 since the early 1990s. Mandatory processes, inspections and tests based on decades of experience and farmer-and rancher-funded research are in place in packing plants across the country. These post-harvest interventions, like lactic acid washes for cattle hides and carcasses, help ensure the safety of beef.
- Dairy farms and plants must meet stringent federal and local regulations, including those developed by the USDA, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and state regulatory agencies.
- Dairy plants are inspected multiple times a year by state agencies, the FDA and USDA.
Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST). 2012. The Direct Relationship between Animal Health and Food Safety Outcomes
Meat and poultry are rigorously monitored by law. Meat and poultry for human consumption must pass inspection and monitoring by the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).
FSIS has more than 7,600 inspectors and veterinarians working in plants with meat, poultry and egg products and at ports-of-entry every day to prevent, detect and respond to food safety issues. FSIS also has more than 100 employees across the U.S. who monitors meat, poultry and egg products at ports of entry, including docks, loading areas and refrigeration and storage areas.
According to Richard Raymond, the former undersecretary of agriculture for food safety, in an article on MeatingPlace.com, during the past 10 years, “foodborne illnesses numbers are down 20 percent even though the U.S. population increased by 10 percent. This makes the 20 percent reduction an even more significant accomplishment.” As a result U.S. consumer risk of contracting a fatal foodborne illness is .001 percent – a number that farmers and rancher, in partnership with the entire food chain from farm to work, continually work to decrease. While some bacteria may be present on food at the time of purchasing, the most common vehicle of foodborne illness is raw food. Contamination can occur during growing, harvesting, processing, storing, shipping or final preparation. Sources of produce contamination are varied as these foods are grown in soil and can become contaminated during growth or through processing and distribution. Contamination may also occur during food preparation in a restaurant or a home kitchen. The most common form of contamination from handled foods is the calcivirus, also called the Norwalk-like virus.
Some keys to reducing contamination at home:
- Wash your hands with warm, soapy water before and after preparing food and after using the bathroom or changing diapers.
- Keep raw meat, poultry, seafood and their juices away from ready-to-eat foods.
- Cook foods properly and at a high enough temperature to kill harmful bacteria.
- Refrigerate foods within two hours or less after cooking because cold temperatures will help keep harmful bacteria from growing and multiplying.
- Clean surfaces well before and after using them to prepare food.